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Exercise & Fitness

Can exercise help conquer addiction?

December 26, 2018

About the Author

photo of Claire Twark, MD

Claire Twark, MD, Contributor

Dr. Twark is an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a board member of the International Society for Sports Psychiatry, and a psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where she directs the Athlete Mind Program. … See Full Bio
View all posts by Claire Twark, MD


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December 31, 2018

From personal experience with anorexia, which is in my mind an addiction due to the pull and control it lords over one, I have had a full 40 year recovery by adding daily exercise to my life. Hence I’m a believer in the ability of exercise to calm the brain and help substitute negative behaviors with positive ones. It is powerful, powerful medicine for addiction.

David Shurtleff
December 28, 2018

Your blog provides an important observation, and extant basic research suggests that exercise may provide benefit for the treatment of Opioid Use Disorders (OUD,) and may further improve treat outcomes when combined with Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), although additional research is needed. To address this need for more research, under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) HEAL (Helping End Addiction Long-term) initiative, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NICCH) has just issued a research grant funding opportunity announcement entitled: “HEAL Initiative: Behavioral Research to Improve MAT: Behavioral and Social Interventions to Improve Adherence to Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorders.” The purpose of this funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is to solicit research applications to examine the impact of behavioral and social interventions designed to improve adherence to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for persons with OUD. Applicants are encouraged to examine whether combining MAT with behavioral and/or social interventions can improve adherence to MAT and, at the same time, help prevent substance abuse relapse, and improve long-term abstinence from illicit opioids. The FOA may be found at

December 27, 2018

While physical therapy and alternative treatments such as massage & acupuncture can be helpful, for people w/chronic pain, sometimes “exercise” isn’t possible, except in a very limited way. It depends on the injury and/or surgery that is used to remediate the injury/damage to the extent that is possible (but doesn’t get rid of the pain).

Some people wish they could get off of all pain meds, particularly opoids (which have side effects), but they can’t. Or their lives would be even worse because of the pain they’d suffer.

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