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Exercise Reduces Food & Cigarette Cravings

A study from the University of Exeter reveals that even 15 minutes of brisk walking is effective in reducing cravings for chocolate. Participants were asked to give up chocolate for 3 days before the study, and then were divided into two groups, an exercise group or a resting group. After exercising or resting, they were asked to perform a task that would normally induce a chocolate craving, such as opening a chocolate bar. The group that exercises reported lower cravings than the resting group. The findings are significant because craved foods tend to be calorie dense, sugary or high in fat, and exercise may help people who want to lose weight fight cravings for this kind of food.

These results seem to be related to previously published research, also from the University of Exeter, showing that brief sessions of exercise reduce cigarette cravings. This study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, reveals that exercise changes the way smokers’ brains interpret information, reducing cigarette cravings. Researchers used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans to see how the brain processes information after exercise. The images captured show a difference between the responses after exercise and after no exercise. After not exercising, smokers’ brains showed heightened activity in response to visual images of cigarettes, which would normally inspire cravings. However, after exercise, the same areas of the brain were not activated, suggesting exercise dampens our usual response to cravings.

Although the researchers don’t understand exactly why this response happens in the brain, it is hypothesised that exercise improves mood and possibly dopamine or serotonin secretion, resulting in reduced cravings for mood-enhancing substances. Another possibility is that a change in blood flow from performing exercise results in increased blood flow to areas of the brain less involved in pleasure seeking behaviours.

Even brief sessions of physical activity can help to regulate our moods, and if we don’t exercise we may naturally turn to pleasure-enhancing substances such as eating chocolate or smoking. Performing 30 minutes of daily physical activity, for example two 15 minute brisk walks, not only provides overall health benefits but also may help to regulate how much we turn to our vices.



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