Exercise helps young people beat addiction

01 Oct 2020 | 3 mins

Enjoyable exercise programs could help young people with substance use disorders overcome their addictions, according to a new study led by researchers at The University of Western Australia.

Study lead Dr Bonnie Furzer, from UWA’s School of Human Sciences, said exposing young people to regular, structured and personalised exercise could be an effective technique for treating substance use disorders.

“We know from preliminary research that exercise programs are a readily accessible, low-cost and effective strategy for addressing substance use disorders among young people, which represent a significant public health concern,” Dr Furzer said.

“We discovered that the effectiveness of the exercise program was heavily influenced by how enjoyable the actual exercise was.”

Dr Bonnie Furzer

Drug and alcohol addictions are one of the most common health challenges experienced by people in the 15-24 age range, with an estimated 13 per cent of Australian adolescents experiencing a substance use disorder within a 12-month period.

“After recruiting 64 young people in a residential drug rehabilitation program, we offered them exercise classes twice a week and closely examined the benefits to their rehabilitation,” Dr Furzer said.

“We discovered that the effectiveness of the exercise program was heavily influenced by how enjoyable the actual exercise was.”

Dr Furzer collaborated with researchers from James Cook University, Central Queensland University, Kids Rehab WA, Thriving Inc and the Drug and Alcohol Youth Service - Mental Health Commission to conduct the study.

Professor of health psychology James Dimmock, from James Cook University, said exercise programs should be designed to provide choices, have strong rationales for participation, and be flexible. 

“We believe that people get more enjoyment from an activity when their psychological needs are satisfied,” Professor Dimmock said.

“These needs are universal and include autonomy, competence and a sense of close connection to others.

“The instructors should be positive and offer clear and relevant goals while building rapport with the clients.”

Dr Furzer hopes the research findings can influence the improvement and creation of robust drug and alcohol programs.

Media references

Nicholas Smith, UWA Media Officer, 08 6488 1888 / 0411 644 492

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