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Can exercise prevent addiction?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is set to give out a $4 million research grant to plough deeper into the possibility of using physical activity as an effective tool to prevent substance abuse and dependency. The announcement of this multi-million grant coincides with the multi-disciplinary conference organized by the same agency and where the same topic is to explored.

According to NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow, the conference brings together more than a hundred scientist from around the country to discuss and debate on the potentials of exercise in substance abuse prevention. In particular this conference aims to describe the current state of science and research focused on the said topic, to develop and test new theories for prevention, and to encourage more researches exploring these areas.

Motivation and inspiration

The grant and conference are the brainchild of Dr. Volkow, whose attention was caught by findings of a study suggesting that young adults and teens who exercised everyday less likely to smoke than those of the same ages but led sedentary lifestyles. This study and her expert knowledge that that physical activity tends to reinforce pleasure to the brain were two of the motivations behind this push to further research to prove that physical activity is a potential substance abuse prevention strategy.

Exercise, as used here and by NIDA, does not refer to the intensive work out routines and athletics but rather to regular or daily physical activity done at in various intensity. Examples of these activities are dancing, swimming, martial arts, bicycling, playing, and even walking. NIDA aims to explore how such physical activities can affect the mood of a person and his performance in school. At a more physiological level, the effects of these activities to the reward systems of the brain are also to be discussed in the conference.

The current scenario

NIDA believes that exploration of these topics is very timely given that the American lifestyle, even that of younger people, is becoming more and more sedentary. Proof to this is the growing obesity epidemic which is often attribute to reduced outdoor playtime and less physical education in school. The sedentary lifestyle of these youngsters is something that they inevitably carries on to the adulthood.

Exercise and substance abuse treatment

Way before interest regarding the potential of exercise in preventing substance abuse, the same is being used as a treatment method, particularly to act as a distraction from triggers of the abuse. Treatments centers such as Miramar Laguna Beach have long been incorporating such method to help dependents recover and to encourage them to lead cleaner and healthier lifestyles.