The theme of my last academic article* dealt with temptation and palatable (i.e. nice tasting) food. What lies beneath our motives for brownie craving lends some really interesting insights into how our brain works. By understanding why we can’t stop eating ding dongs, we may also gain a greater understanding of our inability to withhold from other tempting stimuli. But this post isn’t about the delights of experimental psychology or cognitive neuroscience. Rather, today’s theme is a bit more jockology: how exercise reduces food cravings. We hear the drone about ‘move more’ with astounding frequency, seated in the rationale that calorie burning will lead to weight loss. Personally, I think it’s a bit more interesting to know that by moving more we may actually start to crave less. Here is a study that explains part of this idea.
In a recent study (Evero, Hackett, Clark, Phelan, & Hagobian, 2012), a group of healthy men and women were asked to complete an hour of exercise (or not) and then each group was shown a series of food images (nice tasting, boring food, and neutral images were used).
Brain activation was recorded by functional magnetic resonance imaging technology (fMRI), a device that records blood flow, thereby suggesting areas of stronger activation in response to the visual cues. Exercise, compared to not, significantly reduced neuronal response to food, which could be detected in a variety of areas in the brain. Most importantly, exercise led to a significant reduction in activation in the parts of the brain that are associated with food craving, reduced incentive motivation, and reduced anticipation for food.
I’m not sure if we’ll ever be able to exploit the mental and physical health benefits of exercise in a pharmacological sense, anyway. And who would want to? During the summer when you can jump outside for a run or swim, there’s never a better time like the present. Knowing that a bike ride can objectively diminish curly fry craving ought to help a little bit.
Have a great afternoon,
*Oh, trembling fingers at the key board- please let the gods of academia allow for these published?
Evero, N., Hackett, L. C., Clark, R. D., Phelan, S., & Hagobian, T. A. (2012). Aerobic exercise reduces neuronal responses in food reward brain regions. J Appl Physiol, 112(9), 1612-1619.