Featured News Exercise enjoyment linked to addiction recovery

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Thu, 1 Oct 2020

Exercise enjoyment linked to addiction recovery

Image: Dylan Nolte

Scientists have found exercise that is enjoyable helps steer young drug and alcohol abusers away from their addictions.

The research was conducted by researchers from James Cook University, The University of Western Australia, Central Queensland University, Kids Rehab WA, and the Drug and Alcohol Youth Service - Mental Health Commission, in Perth.

Professor of health psychology at JCU, James Dimmock, said drug and alcohol addictions are one of the most common health challenges experienced by people in the 15-24 age range.

“An estimated 13 per cent of Australian adolescents and young adults experience a substance use disorder within a 12-month period.

“Globally, even with the best care available, relapse rates for young people are very high – up to 85 per cent fall back into addiction eventually,” said Professor Dimmock.

Lead author, Dr Bonnie Furzer, from The University of Western Australia’s School of Human Sciences said substance abuse disorders among youth represent a significant public health concern.

“We know from preliminary research that participation in regular, structured and personalised exercise is an important part of successful substance abuse treatment,” Dr Furzer said.

Professor Dimmock said there is emerging evidence that exercise programs are a readily accessible, relatively low cost and effective strategy for helping those in treatment programs.

“One particularly interesting suggestion from previous research was that if the exercise was seen as enjoyable and engaging it was linked with even greater positive results,” said Professor Dimmock.

To test the notion the scientists recruited 64 young people in a residential drug rehabilitation program and made exercise classes available to them twice a week.

“Our research specifically highlighted that if the exercise program is enjoyable, it’s even more effective,” said Professor Dimmock.

He said there was substantial research on exactly how to motivate people to exercise and how to make it enjoyable.

“We believe that people get more enjoyment from an activity when their psychological needs are satisfied. These needs are universal  and include autonomy, competence and a sense of close connection to others,” said Professor Dimmock.

He said that generally, and especially so in relation to those undergoing drug or alcohol treatment, exercise programs should be designed to provide choices, have strong rationales for participation, and be flexible.

“The instructors should be positive and offer clear and relevant goals while building rapport between themselves and the client and between the clients,” said Professor Dimmock.

He said the findings showed participation in enjoyable, structured exercise may provide an important component of successful drug and alcohol programs.


Professor James Dimmock
E: james.dimmock@jcu.edu.au