The study was conducted by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. It surveyed 5,002 African-American men and women—all participants drawn from the National Survey of American Life (NSAL). The NSAL study took place between 2001 and 2003, and it aimed to identify racial and ethnic differences in mental disorders and other psychological distress. In this context, researchers analyzed data regarding exercise habits and drinking habits. (Alcohol abuse, for the purposes of the study, was defined as drinking that has negative social, professional and/or legal consequences.)
The results were rather straightforward. The large-scale survey found that those who rarely or never exercised were almost twice as likely to abuse alcohol than those who exercised frequently. Specifically, those who rarely or never exercise were at between 84% and 88% higher odds of abusing alcohol. The study may have surveyed a particular group within the general American demographic, but researchers believe that this is a finding that could have implications across all groups.
April Joy Damian, a doctoral student in the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins and the study’s author, did make some qualifications regarding these findings: “Because the NSAL study was essentially a snapshot that was taken at one point in time, we can’t say that engaging in physical activity will prevent people from developing alcohol use disorder or that alcohol use disorder can be treated with physical activity.” She continued, “Given that alcohol use disorder has a high rate of co-occurrence for depression and anxiety, it merits further study all around, for African Americans as well as others. We should consider how physical activity contributes to alcohol-related behavior and design interventions for people who are at risk.”
Regardless of what this study and future studies may show specifically, those recovering from addiction could surely benefit in general from regular exercise. Exercise can help build physical strength after the throes of addiction, and it can also keep your focus away from any potential cravings during the recovery process. So if you’ve been considering resolving to exercise better in the new year, go ahead—it will help you in your recovery as well.