Can Physical Activity and Exercise Prevent Substance Use: Promoting a Full Range of Science to Inform Prevention

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Building 1, Wilson Hall, NIH Main Campus, Bethesda, Maryland


United States

Meeting Summary

NIDA Chairs: Augusto Diana, Ph.D., Marsha Lopez, Ph.D., M.H.S., and Aleta Meyer, Ph.D.

Meeting Purpose and Intent:

The purpose of this meeting was for scientists to share relevant research addressing the relationship between physical activity/exercise and behavioral health, toward the aim of stimulating research to inform effective substance use prevention. Presenters raised a full range of potential neurobiological, developmental, social, and environmental processes associated with physical activity and the onset and progression of drug abuse. Panels focused on conceptualizing physical activity in terms of mechanisms of change, including emotion regulation and mood, attention processes and executive control, and motivation/reward mechanisms. This conceptualization provided a compelling platform for future substance use prevention research. Advances in technology were presented that showed promise toward improved measurement of physical activity. Finally, existing evidence-based strategies for using physical activity to prevent other chronic diseases (e.g., obesity, diabetes, cancer) indicated that the strategy was feasible and had potential for public health impact.

Meeting Outcome:

The topic of physical activity as an approach for preventing substance generated enthusiasm among scientists and provided a platform for translational research. Overall, the presentations assisted in the identification of important knowledge gaps that limit our current understanding of the potential role of physical activity in the prevention of substance abuse. Questions regarding type, amount, context (including access), and persistence of physical activity and how these dimensions vary across the lifespan remain overriding issues in need of answers. Similarly, further discussion is needed on how evidence on the benefits of physical activity on other health conditions can inform substance use prevention.