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Teens who Exercise are Less Likely to Smoke and Use Drugs

A new study has found that teenagers who exercise and play team sports are less likely to start smoking or using drugs. However, these teens often drink more alcohol than their peers.

Although the study doesn’t show a causal relationship between playing sports and substance abuse, it could have essential implications for preventing substance abuse among young adults.

Study author Yvonne Terry-McElrath of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor said that urging young people to exercise and making sure teen athletes are screened for alcohol abuse are important first steps to address this issue. She added that the associations in the study were not “staggeringly large” and that while exercise has many physical and psychological benefits, it can’t “cure” substance abuse.

For the study, the researchers used data from a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study that tracked high school seniors through young adulthood through regular surveys, which asked about recent use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, and their participation in athletics and general exercise.

The researchers collected data from nearly 12,000 students, about half of whom continued filling out the surveys until they were 25 to 26 years old.

At the first survey, the average student drank alcohol one to five times in the last month, and smoked marijuana zero to two times. The average student didn’t smoke cigarettes or smoked less than one per day. About nine percent of students used other illicit drugs in the past month.

Those students who participated in team sports or exercised more often were less likely to smoke cigarettes and use marijuana or other illicit drugs. Those that increased their physical activity over the next few years smoked and used drugs less often with time.

About 38 percent of students who didn’t play sports or exercise reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month, and 23 percent had smoked marijuana. Twenty-five to 29 percent of frequent exercisers and athletes had smoked cigarettes in the previous month, and 15 to 17 percent had smoked marijuana.

Students who were involved in team sports were more likely to drink frequently. About 45 percent of non-exercisers reported drinking alcohol in the past month, and 57 percent of those who played a team sport had drank in the past month.
The authors note that high school seniors who reported drinking in the first survey were also heavier drinkers in the follow-up studies.

Terry-McElrath said that drinking may be a popular activity among some teams, and students may feel peer pressure to drink after games. Sports and alcohol have long been associated, and competitive players may feel the need to remain competitive when it comes to their peers’ drinking habits.

The authors conclude that encouraging general exercise among young people may help prevent substance abuse in high school and later in life, and that screening student athletes for alcohol abuse could help prevent alcohol-related problems, including addiction.

Source: Reuters Health, Genevra Pittman,Young athletes use fewer drugs, but more alcohol, May 30, 2011

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