Health & Wellbeing

High-intensity exercise may dampen cravings for fatty foods

High-intensity exercise may da...
Exercise might help us steer clear of unhealthy foods for longer
Exercise might help us steer clear of unhealthy foods for longer
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Exercise might help us steer clear of unhealthy foods for longer
Exercise might help us steer clear of unhealthy foods for longer

The allure of of a donut or hamburger can test the resolve of even the strictest of dieters, but a new study has hinted at new tools that can help us resist the temptation. The research explores how exercise can reduce cravings for fatty foods, demonstrating in rodents how bouts of high-intensity activity can dampen these tendencies and promote healthier eating.

Carried out by scientists at Washington State University, the study focuses on what's termed “incubation of craving," which refers to the idea that the longer we are denied something, the more we crave it. Originally coined by scientists studying cocaine addiction, in the context of dieting it might mean it is harder to say no to ice cream and french fries the longer we go on eating kale and celery.

The scientists set out to explore the potential of exercise to help us ignore cues that can lead to unhealthy eating. This might be a TV ad for hamburgers that has us picking up the phone to place an order or a billboard that has us headed for the drive-thru. To do so, the team trained rats to seek out high-fat food pellets by pressing a lever, which turned on a light and made a tone to act as a cue before dispensing.

The rats were placed on a 30-day diet with no access to the pellets and split into two groups, one made to undergo regular high-intensity treadmill running and one left to just carry out their regular activity. After the dieting period had concluded, the rats were giving access to the lever once again, but this time it didn't dispense pellets when pressed and only turned on the light and sounded the tone.

The non-exercise group of rats were then found to press the levers significantly more than the group that exercised, suggesting the extra physical activity had suppressed their cravings for the high-fat food. The results raise some interesting possibilities, but scientists do emphasize this research in rodents is still in its early stages. The next steps are to focus on the effects of different types of exercise on the "incubation of craving," as well as the mechanisms at play in the human brain.

“Exercise is beneficial from a number of perspectives: it helps with cardiac disease, obesity and diabetes; it might also help with the ability to avoid some of these maladaptive foods,” said corresponding author on the study Travis Brown. “We’re always looking for this magic pill in some ways, and exercise is right in front of us with all these benefits.”

The research was published in the journal Obesity.

Source: Washington State University

Fraser Steen
Can confirm exercise really helps curb cravings. Personally find extended low intensity more effective though.
It would have been easy to carry out this experiment with human volunteers! Do rats prefer doughnuts to carrots? I know what I like!