(ORDO NEWS) — In a study that gives hope to dieters, rats that were on a 30-day diet and exercised intensely resisted cues that they wanted to eat the high-fat meals they wanted.
The experiment was designed to test resistance to a phenomenon known as craving incubation, meaning the longer a desired substance is withheld, the harder it is to ignore signals of desire. The results suggest that exercise changed how hard the rats were willing to work on the cues associated with the granules, reflecting their degree of craving for them.
While more research is needed, the results of the study may suggest that exercise may increase restraint on certain foods, said Travis Brown, a physiology and neuroscience researcher at the University of Washington.
“A really important part of dieting is having the brain power – the ability to say, ‘No, I may want it, but I’ll refrain,'” said Brown, a corresponding author of the study published in the journal Obesity. plan for weight loss, but also mentally to gain control over junk food cravings.”
In the experiment, Brown and his colleagues at VSU and the University of Wyoming trained 28 rats to operate a lever that, when pressed, turned on a light and beeped before dispensing a high-fat pill. After a training period, they conducted a test to see how many times the rats would press the lever just to receive a light and sound signal.
The researchers then divided the rats into two groups: one of them underwent a high-intensity treadmill running regimen, and the other had no additional exercise outside of normal activity. Both groups of rats were denied access to high fat pellets for 30 days.
At the end of this period, the researchers again gave the rats access to the levers that had once dispensed the pellets, but this time only a light and tone signal was given when the levers were pressed. The non-exercised animals pressed the levers significantly more frequently than the exercised rats, suggesting that exercise reduces pellet cravings.
In future research, the research team plans to explore the effects of different levels of exercise on this type of craving, as well as exactly how exercise affects the brain to curb the urge to eat unhealthy foods.
Although the study is new, Brown said it builds on the work of Jeff Grimm of Western Washington University, who led the team that first defined the term “craving incubation” and explored other ways to suppress it. Brown also noted research by Marilyn Carroll-Santi of the University of Minnesota showing that exercise can blunt cocaine cravings.
The question of whether food can be addictive in the same way as drugs is still unresolved. Not all foods are addictive; as Brown noted, “nobody eats broccoli.” However, people respond to cues, such as fast food ads, that encourage them to eat foods that are high in fat or sugar, and these cues can become stronger the longer they diet.
The ability to ignore these cues may be another way exercise improves health, Brown said.
“Exercise is beneficial in many ways: it helps with heart disease, obesity and diabetes; it can also help with the ability to avoid some of these maladaptive foods,” he said. “We’re always looking for the magic pill, and exercise with all these benefits is right in front of us.”
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