Three Tips for Integrating Physical Activity and Sports with Prevention

Research has indicated the potential of physical activity and sports in developing positive self-identity, preventing addictions, assisting in recovery, and promoting physical and mental health among youth and adults.  One key unanswered question for professionals and parents is how to best integrate fitness into your substance abuse prevention programs and communication.  Below are three tips to help you do just that. 

Tip #1: Provide opportunities for youth and adults in communities and homes to participate in physical activities, fitness events like fun runs and walks, sports, and training to develop athletic skills along with your prevention activities and talks.  These activities will help kids and adults develop pro-social self-images which protect against substance use initiation and support alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse-free lifestyles. 

Provide youth and adults with resources about where they can find fun fitness and sports activities in their neighborhoods.  These might be at YMCA’s, Boys & Girls Clubs, community and school sponsored events, local gyms and fitness centers, and organized sporting activities.  Partner with these organizations and others to support a wide variety of fitness and sports events for kids and adults in your community. 

Tip #2: Provide education and information to youth and adults about the relationship between physical activity and sports, and living a healthy lifestyle.  Teach individuals about the connection between participating in physical activity and sports and positive personal outcomes such as reducing stress, preventing obesity and losing excess weight, increasing self-confidence, achieving life goals, and avoiding problems with friends and family.  In addition, illustrate of how individuals who are physically active and participate in sports display many positive characteristics, such as looking and feeling fit, healthy, and successful. 

Using educational programs, media campaigns, and personal communication, provide youth and adults with concrete examples of how risk behaviors such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other illicit drug use interferes with participating in physical activity and sports, achieving positive life goals, and feeling and looking fit and active.   

For example, describe how alcohol and marijuana use can harm a person’s ability to participate at their highest level in physical and mental activities like sports and academics, due to their negative effects on the brain, eye-hand coordination, body weight gain, and central nervous system toxicity.  

Tip #3: Use existing evidence-based programs and tools which already integrate substance abuse prevention with fitness and health promotion.  For example, the eight-session ATHNEA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise & Nutrition Alternatives) program, and the 13-session ATLAS (Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids) program (http://atlasathena.org/) were designed to address healthy eating and exercise along with substance abuse avoidance for high school athletes.   

Other evidence-based programs that integrate substance abuse prevention with fitness and wellness promotion were designed to be used in busy settings with general populations.  These include the single-session SPORT Prevention Plus Wellness program for youth (http://preventionpluswellness.com/sport/) and the InShape Prevention Plus Wellness program for young adults (http://preventionpluswellness.com/inshape/).  New adaptations of these integrative prevention with fitness programs are now available in brief lessons for use by parents (http://preventionpluswellness.com/ppw-for-parents/), as well as for youth and adults in substance abuse recovery and treatment (e.g., http://preventionpluswellness.com/sport-recovery/).      


In summary, participating in regular physical activity and sports is associated with many beneficial outcomes, including developing positive self-identity, preventing addictions, assisting in recovery, and promoting physical and mental health among youth and adults.  As health providers and parents, we can integrate fitness and sports with our substance abuse programs and communication in our communities, schools and homes.   

I provided three tips for helping integrate physical activity/sports and prevention by providing: 1) opportunities for kids and adults to participate in fun physical activities and sports in our communities, 2) education and information to our youth and adults about the positive benefits associated with physical activity/sports and how substance use/abuse harms being fit and active, and 3) proven evidence-based programs shown to successfully link the promotion of sports and being active with preventing alcohol and drug abuse.


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