For decades (possibly centuries??), athletes have been stereotyped as the campus’s biggest party animals. The scientific merits of this relationship has also been debated by a panel of exercise physiologists and neuroscientists specializing in alcohol addiction research at a meeting that I attended a few years ago (although in this post, I focused on the studies that were in agreement with our lab’s data). The general discussion of the pro-exercise/pro-alcohol side of the panel that was supported, of course, by rigorous neurobiological examinations of changes in brain circuitry and alcohol intake with exercise was that the rewiring of the reward centers of the brain and their signaling pathways that is caused by exercise possibly results in allostasis; the establishment of a new reward “set point” that requires, in turn, more activation and signaling within the reward pathways, likely through dopamine and serotonin, and therefore, a need for escalated exposure to rewarding environmental stimuli. As I just mentioned, studies within my own graduate laboratory are in disagreement with this hypothesis as we found that wheel running, at least in hamsters, can serve as a rewarding substitute for alcohol. Exercise as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs of abuse has also been found in mice (Ehringer et al. 2009 [ethanol]; Smith et al. 2008 [cocaine]).
Despite this disagreement, I’d like to recommend a layman reading that discusses psychosocial and biological evidence for heavy drinking in reward-seeking individuals found in this month’s Women’s Health. My graduate school advisor was interviewed for the article due to our reward substitution study that we published last year (Hammer et al. 2010), which is odd given that we found opposite effects of what the magazine is presenting **head scratch**
On a side note, here is a video that anyone over the age of 30 should be impressed by. In the last post, I mentioned that I have begun the quest towards being crowned the fittest person in the world (though not likely to be me….but I am currently ranked 10th in the Southeast). Here is a video of a SEVENTY YEAR OLD woman doing the workout as part of her quest to become the fittest master’s female in the world. She did only 40 reps less than me, which seems like a lot, but if I could only describe to you how awful and quickly your whole body (arm, legs, abdominal, and diaphragm muscles, as well as lung tissue) feels during the first two minutes, then you can appreciate this 7-minute feat, let alone how limber this chica is. You rock, Emma James Miles.