Exercise in the Treatment of Addiction: A Systematic Literature Review. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Exercise has been recognized as a promising and emerging treatment for individuals recovering from addiction. The purpose of this article was to systematically review scientific studies using exercise as a means to improve, sustain, or treat addictions, and to provide suggestions for the future use of exercise as a treatment method for addiction. METHODS: Using PRISMA guidelines, a database search was conducted for articles that tested the impact of exercise interventions on addiction-related outcomes. To be included, peer-reviewed experimental design studies had to use human subjects to investigate the relationship between exercise and the treatment of or recovery from addiction. Garrard's Matrix Method was used to extract data from reviewed articles (n=53). RESULTS: Nearly three quarters of the studies reviewed documented a significant change in addiction-related outcomes (e.g., more days abstinent, reduced cravings) in response to exercise exposure, particularly while someone was receiving treatment at an in or outpatient clinic. Many studies investigated the effect of acute bouts of exercise on nicotine dependence, and many studies had small sample sizes, leaving room for future research on how exercise might benefit people recovering from substance and process addictions. CONCLUSION: Results affirm that exercise can be a helpful aspect of addiction treatment. Future researchers should investigate different exercise settings (e.g., group-based exercise vs individual) and explore exercise maintenance and the long-term outcomes following discharge from treatment facilities.

published proceedings

  • Health Educ Behav

altmetric score

  • 27

author list (cited authors)

  • Patterson, M. S., Spadine, M. N., Graves Boswell, T., Prochnow, T., Amo, C., Francis, A. N., Russell, A. M., & Heinrich, K. M.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Patterson, Megan S||Spadine, Mandy N||Graves Boswell, Taylor||Prochnow, Tyler||Amo, Christina||Francis, Allison N||Russell, Alex M||Heinrich, Katie M

publication date

  • April 2022