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Monday, August 27, 2012

Easing Addictive Cravings With Exercise

"The great object in life is Sensation—to feel that we exist, even though in pain; it is this 'craving void' which drives us to gaming, to battle, to travel, to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment." ...George Gordon Noel Byron

Interesting quote, don't you think? The poet Lord Byron died 1824, but even today people still strive to fill the "craving void."  The basic definition of craving is to long for; want greatly, to desire eagerly.

If you suffer from any kind of addiction or habit, then you know how hard it is to "quit." This is particularly true if your habit impacts your daily life physically, socially, legally, financially, emotionally, and psychologically.

One could argue that addiction to drugs or alcohol is a much more difficult habit to quit and the cravings can seem insurmountable, because the disease of addiction really can eventually destroy your ability to earn a living, to stay out of legal difficulties, to maintain healthy relationships with your family and friends, and to continue to live a healthy life. However, the truth is any habit, from nail-biting to over-eating to caffeine drinking to smoking to shopping (the list goes on), involves the need to fill the "craving void" and interestingly people who are trying to quit one addiction will often fill the "craving void" with another habit. Hopefully the other habit is a healthy habit.

This weekend the result of a new study was reported on by Reuters and covered in the Chicago Tribune. The study article The Acute Effects of Physical Activity on Cigarette Cravings: Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis with Individual Participant Data is available online in Addiction. The conclusion: There is strong evidence that physical activity acutely reduces cigarette craving.

Over the past few years we have often written about exercise and cravings. Additionally, exercise is an important feature of our addiction treatment programs: "Our treatment program integrates a well-rounded balance of individual and group therapy sessions, 12-step meetings, social activities, exercise, a healthy diet, and rest periods. Learning these habits in everyday life is essential for people who are determined to succeed in lasting recovery after the drug and alcohol treatment is complete."

While the current study led by Adrian Taylor, a professor of exercise and health psychology at the University of Exeter in Great Britain, focuses specifically on the efficacy of exercise helping to reduce nicotine cravings, it is important to remember that nicotine dependency is a deadly addiction and according to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC): "Each year, an estimated 443,000 people [Americans] die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking."

Let's remember that promoting exercise does not mean that every smoker or person addicted to drugs and/or alcohol needs to run out and join a gym. It doesn't mean one needs to buy any type of exercise equipment. It doesn't mean you have to join an exercise class. It simply means you need to get up and move regularly.
  • Take daily or twice daily walks in your neighborhood or where you work. 
  • Get up from your desk and walk through the building. 
  • If you work in retail, briskly walk around the store during your break(s). 
  • If you work at a school, walk around the campus and invite your co-workers to walk with you. 
  • If you have a bicycle, then dust it off and take a ride on a daily basis. 
  • If your home or apartment complex has a swimming pool, get in the pool everyday and swim laps or do some routine water aerobics. 
  • If you are student, ask your classmates to join you in walking, dancing, playing a sport on a daily basis.
As Reuters reports, Adrian Taylor indicates that one reason exercise helps with cravings is that it "may serve as a distraction, while being active might also boost people's mood, so that they don't feel as great a need to feel better by smoking."

Again, it is important to recognize that exercise does not need to be expensive, it just means making a time commitment to do it.

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