Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quit smoking (and junk food?) through brief exercise?

Brains are crazy places.

So neuroscientists using fancy brain imaging (fMRI) devices have demonstrated that nicotine stimulates the brain's mesocorticolimbic system (a reward centre).

Other research has demonstrated those same centres lighting up with food cravings.

Old news, no?

Sure, but new fMRI studies combining smoking cues with exercise may help to explain how exercise helps with weight loss.

Now most people believe exercise's role in weight loss is purely mathematical - it burns calories. While indeed that does play a role, unfortunately exercise doesn't burn nearly as many calories as would be fair and really is generally a minor mathematical player in weight loss. Yet despite it's minor role there's a robust evidence base that suggests exercise is essential in weight management, especially weight maintenance.

So how does it help? If it doesn't burn many calories, what exactly does it do to help with weight control?

Perhaps it changes your brain.

You see a recent study published last year in the journal Psychopharmacology demonstrated that smokers who were nicotine abstinent for 15 hours, when faced with images of smoking had their mesocorticolimbic systems light up like Christmas trees. Yet Those same smokers, when exposed to 10 minutes of exercise prior to the smoking images showed no such lighting.

So could the role of exercise in weight management have more to do with craving control than burnt calories? Do the folks who exercise more effectively turn off the parts of their brains that at times make cravings irresistible?

Only one way to find out. If there's a time of the day that's more difficult for you to manage cravings why not try to build in 10 minutes of brisk walking, gardening, stationary biking, dance or active play and see if it helps to take the edge off? Worst case scenario? You get 10 extra minutes of healthy exercise.

Janse Van Rensburg, K., Taylor, A., Hodgson, T., & Benattayallah, A. (2008). Acute exercise modulates cigarette cravings and brain activation in response to smoking-related images: an fMRI study Psychopharmacology, 203 (3), 589-598 DOI: 10.1007/s00213-008-1405-3

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  1. Hi Yoni, Well yes I track my food on spark site. http://www.sparkpeople.com.

    It is true there is a 10 kg difference btw me smoker and non smoker , it has been in the past, so this time I am tracking my food . 1200-1500 cal , more on the lower side, 30 g carb Max. No junk food, and already I am 6 kg more after 95 days, I walk 1hr /day. I guess I could do more.

    Let me tell you I am reading your blog approx,2-3 months and really am a fan.

  2. Hi Thania,

    If your tracking is accurate (meaning you're recording as you go along, weighing and measuring meals and snacks and aren't eating out more than let's say 2 meals a week), I'd suggest some basic bloodwork to ensure there's nothing else going on.

    If you could find someone near you that has an indirect calorimeter you could also have your metabolism measured to determine if in fact you simply burn far fewer calories than one would expect.

    Thanks for the kind words regarding the blog.

  3. Anonymous2:04 pm

    I've tried just about every method there is out there and there is only one I can recommend - NLP! It eliminates the cravings.
    Gum patches and all the other just did not cut it for me, not to mention cold turkey which was the hardest, I even tried the electric cig and it is just no match to the real thing.
    Check out this article: http://www.squidoo.com/Not_Smoking_Any_More
    it’s the one that got me off the cigs and smoke free for GOOD even without gaining weight! :)
    Good luck kicking the habit!