Is exercise the new trend in drug and alcohol treatment ?

Alcohol and addiction treatment may have just gotten more plain and simple. New NIH grant money is being awarded to researchers to identify possible links between fitness and drug prevention and the benefits of exercise in drug rehab centers. Do addicts and the general population really need this PROOF before they’ll work out daily?

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The Department of Health and Human Services is sponsoring studies that examine neurobiological and behavioral mechanisms that underlie the effects of physical activity on brain function.  They’re specifically interested in the effects of exercise, fitness and physical activity for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse.  The theory is that exercise may provide a prophylactic effect and/or an ameliorative treatment effect for addiction.  But how is physical activity linked to improved psychological well-being?

This is the question.

Exercise and fitness is so good for you, that I doubt that this study can go wrong.   Running, biking, walking or working out in a gym feel freakin’ good.  I don’t know why.  But it works.  People regularly participate in sports teams, martial arts, or outdoor adventure and like both healthy leisure and restorative recreation (think nature walks or hiking).  Plus, vigorous expressive activities, such as dance and the open-ended free play of children leave you feeling high!

But what’s interesting is that recent advances in neuroimaging technologies such as fMRI, MRI, PET have the potential to define the effects of physical activity on the brain processes underlying drug abuse behavior and addiction.  These technologies can literally SHOW us what we’re feeling.  So what we once knew as a “natural high” might now become known to science.

In my opinion, a mandatory 30-45 minutes of daily physical exercise should be present in any addiction treatment setting.  Optimal rates will vary according to age, weight, etc…but addicts have got to get moving.  Not only will this improve desired health outcomes (cardio-respiratory health, musculoskeletal health, functional health, energy balance, cancer prevention), but mandatory fitness can certainly help addicts release emotional and mental  blocks that might occur during cognitive behavioral therapy sessions.

It’s my guess that exercise and fitness can only positively affect mood, sleep, cognitive function, stress, craving, diet and weight.  What do you think?  Is this a no-brainer?  Do we just need to see the stats to believe our bodies?  And what holds addicts back from exercise in the first place?  What can we do to get us off our butts and into a gym?

P.S. If you’re eligible and interested in money from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (ie. NIDA grant RFA-DA-09-013), click.  But hurry up.  This grant opens on December 28, 2008 and will close a month later.  Go-go-gadget government grants!
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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