Aim: To examine whether a brief bout of moderate intensity exercise reduces alcohol urges and mood disturbance in those with alcohol dependence.
Design: A counterbalanced cross-over design (within-subjects).
Setting: A hospital-based alcohol rehabilitation clinic.
Participants: Twenty males and females [mean (SD) age = 40.1 (8.2) years, mean (SD) Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire score = 34.2 (13.4)] who had recently completed alcohol detoxification [mean (SD) days since completing detoxification = 3.5 (2.3)].
Intervention: On the first day of experimentation all participants (N = 20) were randomized to undergo one of two conditions, either: (i) a single bout of 10 minutes of moderate intensity cycling (experimental), or (ii) a single bout of 10 minutes of very light intensity cycling (control). On the following day they underwent the remaining condition.
Measurements: All participants completed the Alcohol Urge Questionnaire and a six-item measure of mood disturbance at the following times: (i) immediately before exercise (baseline), (ii) during exercise (at 5 minutes), (iii) immediately following exercise, (iv) 5 minutes following exercise and (v) 10 minutes after exercise.
Findings: Relative to baseline, there was a significant decline in alcohol urges for the experimental condition versus control during exercise (P = 0.02) but not at any measurement point following exercise. At baseline, by chance, there was a non-significant tendency for there to be higher ratings of alcohol urges for the experimental condition versus the control. For mood, there was no evidence for significant differences between treatment conditions for baseline versus any subsequent measurement point.
Conclusions: A brief bout of moderate intensity exercise may provide some short-term relief from alcohol urges during exercise. Further studies are required to replicate the present findings and to confirm whether any moderating effect of exercise on alcohol urges is sustained following exercise.