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The experiment was designed to test resistance to the phenomenon known as “craving incubation”, which means that the longer the desired substance is withheld, the harder it is to ignore the signals that concern her. The findings suggest that
“A really important part of sticking to a diet is having some brain power — the ability to say ‘no, I might want this, but I’m going to abstain,'” Brown said. . “Exercise could not only be beneficial physically for weight loss, but also mentally for controlling cravings for unhealthy foods.”
In the experiment, Brown and his colleagues trained 28 rats with a lever that, when pressed, turned on a light and made a sound before dispensing a high-fat pellet. After the training period, they tested how many times the rats pressed the lever just to get the light and tone signal.
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The researchers then divided the rats into two groups: one underwent a high-intensity treadmill running regimen; the other had no additional exercise outside of his regular activity. Both groups of rats were denied access to the high-fat pellets for 30 days.
At the end of this period, the researchers gave the rats access to the levers that again dispensed the pellets, but this time when the levers were pressed, they only gave the light and sound signal. Non-exercised animals pressed the levers significantly more than exercised rats, indicating that exercise decreased the need for pellets.
In future studies, the research team plans to investigate the effect of different levels of exercise on this type of craving as well as exactly how exercise works in the brain to curb cravings for unhealthy foods. .
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Although this study is new, Brown said it was based on the work of Jeff Grimm of Western Washington University, who led the team that first defined the term “state incubation.” lack” and studied other ways to reverse it. Brown also credited research by Marilyn Carroll-Santi at the University of Minnesota showing that exercise can lessen cocaine cravings.
It is still an unresolved research question whether food can be addictive in the same way as drugs. Not all foods seem to be addictive; as Brown pointed out, “nobody overeats broccoli.” However, people seem to react to cues, such as fast food advertisements, encouraging them to eat foods high in fat or sugar, and these cues may be harder to resist the longer they diet.
The ability to ignore these cues may be another way exercise improves health, Brown said.
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“Exercise is beneficial in several ways: it helps fight heart disease, obesity and diabetes; it might also help avoid some of these unhealthy foods,” he said. “We’re still looking for that magic pill in some ways, and exercise is right in front of us with all those benefits.”