Grantee: Ana Abrantes
Ana Abrantes, Ph.D.
- Butler Hospital/Alpert Medical School of Brown University
Ana Abrantes, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University's Butler Hospital and Alpert Medical School. Her research passion is improving the health of people with mental health vulnerabilities, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, by focusing on smoking cessation and increasing physical activity in these populations. People with mental health disorders experience unique challenges, such as cognitive impairments and affective dysregulation, that make sustaining a long-term health behavior change difficult.
Dr. Abrantes has endeavored to develop interventions that target and address these barriers to healthy behavior adoption. Dr. Abrantes' current National Cancer Institute-funded projects include: 1) testing the efficacy of a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise program for cigarette smokers with elevated depressive symptoms and 2) examining the use of non-invasive brain stimulation, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), for improving the affect experience of exercise among individuals with elevated depression.
In the smoking study, participants learn that physical activity plays a role beyond weight management as it is also an ideal strategy for managing negative mood and nicotine cravings, thereby helping to decrease the likelihood of smoking relapse. If physical activity can be sustained and smoking relapse minimized, the public health impact on cancer prevention could be significant. Similarly, if tDCS proves beneficial for improving the affective experience of exercise, this relatively safe, inexpensive, and portable intervention can be used with people who struggle to enjoy exercise so they may be afforded a practical option for increasing and maintaining physical activity levels and, in turn, reduce their risk of developing cancer.
An important "ah-ha" moment came when discussing a colleague's work involving the pairing of brain stimulation with exposure-based behavioral treatment (an oft avoided therapy) to enhance adherence and improve outcomes among individuals with OCD. I thought, "Why couldn't the same approach be applied to vulnerable individuals who avoid or don't enjoy physical activity?"”