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According to a recent study, exercise may be the key to beating addiction.
According to an analysis of existing literature, researchers reviewed the literature on physical activity and its relation to substance abuse. They found that regular exercise is associated with lower use in approximately 75% of studies that investigated this question.
The review was published in PLOS ONE on Wednesday. It examined 43 studies with a total of more than 3,000 participants. The study found that in addition to reduced or stopped substance abuse, there were also improved markers of physical and mental health, as well as decreased depressive symptoms.
'People believe that people should only use psychotherapeutic treatment during their treatment, but this is not what our study has shown,' said Florence Piche, the lead author of the study and a doctoral researcher at Universite de Montreal, Canada. Physical activity is very important to complement the treatment.
The findings are not without limitations. According to Dr. Aaron Kandola of University College London's Medical Research Council Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, the review revealed that the majority of the studies examined by the researchers had a high bias risk, which means more research is required to confirm the findings.
Kandola stated in an email that the studies were not comparable enough for a generalized and comprehensive understanding of this relationship. Kandola did not take part in the research.
He added that the results were nonetheless significant and valuable.
He said that substance abuse disorders were a major problem in public health, and that there was a lack of low-cost solutions based on evidence. Substance abuse disorders, he added, are getting worse across many countries with high incomes, including the United States.
He said that it is important to find more accessible solutions for this disorder, because it occurs often with other mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, which affect people who have less socioeconomic resources.
Mark Smith, professor at Davidson College, North Carolina, has said that physical activity can be a valuable and accessible component of a treatment program for substance abuse disorder. Smith was not involved in the research.
He said: 'I believe there is now enough data to show that different forms of physical exercise and activity are effective in reducing substance abuse among individuals seeking treatment.'
What is exercise?
Kandola says that physical activity is beneficial for most people.
Smith stated that one benefit of the studies was improvements in physical fitness, such as increased cardiovascular endurance or muscular strength. Smith said that although this may not have been the main goal of the study, the finding was important because it showed physical activity does its job in promoting physical health.
Smith said that the research showed that physical activity was linked to increased self-efficacy and self-confidence. These are all known to protect against substance abuse.
Kandola added that physical activity can reduce anxiety and depression - both of which are risk factors for substance abuse.
Why can a little sweat make a big difference? Smith says that exercise produces dramatic brain changes.
Exercise engages neural pathways which are also affected when substances are consumed. Smith said that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that exercise can normalize changes to these pathways that are caused by substance use.
Smith stated that although the study showed the benefits of exercising, it didn't specify the amount or intensity a person should exercise at to reap the benefits.
According to the current American Physical Activity Guidelines, adults should get 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week and do two days of muscle strengthening activity.
Kandola says that even without answers to these questions, people with all types of health concerns should start here.
He said that if you haven't already developed an exercise routine, begin with simple activities such as short walks around the neighborhood.
Kandola stated that'small amounts of physical exercise are still beneficial, and will help you build your fitness over time by gradually increasing the duration and intensity'. The biggest health benefits come from people who move from low to moderate levels of fitness.
Smith added that your exercise should be enjoyable. Enjoying what you do is an excellent way to reduce your substance abuse.
If you give people an alternative activity they enjoy, by default substance abuse will decline. Smith stated that they have other things to do.
This doesn't have to be hours of running on a treadmill. It could be playing pickleball or basketball, tennis, or any other sport you enjoy,' he said.
Kandola wrote in an email that finding the right physical activity for you may take some trial and errors, but it will increase your chances of sticking to it longer. It can be a great way to explore new places or meet new people.