Health & Family

Study: Exercising inhibits drug use

Recent published research by Davidson College Associate Professor Mark Smith shows that exercise can help prevent drug addiction.

According to recent statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 20 million Americans age 12 and older (about 8.3 percent of the population) have used an illicit drug in the past month. The institute has committed $4 million for studies about the effect of exercise on drug use.

Smith, a neuroscientist, worked for about two years on the study with three Davidson student research assistants: Karl Schmidt, Jordan Iordanou and Martina Mustroph.

They compared the tendency to self-administer cocaine between two groups of rats. One group lived in cages with a running wheel; the other group had no wheel.

During six weeks, the rats in the wheel cages increased their running to about 10 kilometers per day while those without wheels got no exercise at all. Then the rats were connected to an infusion pump that provided cocaine if they pushed a lever in their cage, with an increasing number of pushes each time.

They found that the fit rats pushed the lever up to 70 times for the cocaine, and the sedentary rats continued to push the lever for 250 presses. Within the exercising group of rats, the ones that ran the most abandoned the pushing of the lever sooner than other rats.

“We concluded that aerobic exercise reduces the rewarding effects of cocaine, and probably also has protective effects against cocaine abuse,” Smith said in a news release. “That shows me that, in the real world, exercise can be an effective intervention in drug abuse prevention and treatment programs.”

Smith said exercise works because both exercise and illicit drugs prompt the same release in the brain of the euphoria-inducing protein, dopamine. Long-term exercise alters the number of dopamine receptors in the brain, meaning that drugs then have less of a euphoric effect.

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