A mere 15-minute brisk walk is enough to reduce hunger cravings significantly, a new study shows. People are often concerned that exercise will cause hunger and lead to overeating and a stall in weight loss, but new research is showing just the opposite.
Researcher Larissa Ledochowski and colleagues from the University of Innsbruck produced data that showed exercise such as walking reduces urges for sugary snacks and offsets urges in response to the stress in overweight people (1).
The purpose of the study was to determine if a 15-minute bout of moderate intensity exercise reduces levels of sugary snack cravings and attenuates increases in cravings associated with stress. Following three days of ‘chocolate-abstinence’, 47 overweight, sugary snack consumers were assessed.
In the study, subjects were split into two groups. One group went on a 15-minute brisk walk, while the other remained sedentary. The groups then completed two tasks: a word interference task and handling sugary snacks. The group that went for the walk experienced a significant level of reduced cravings for high-kilojoule sugary snacks.
On average 97 percent of women and 68 percent of men experience food cravings (2), which, along with greater daily fatigue and less physical activity, is a hallmark of obesity (3).
Exercise is noted to reduce psychological and physiological responses to stress and has been proposed to help break the habit of snacking on unhealthy foods (4). Food cravings have also been blamed for overeating in obese people and for early dropout from weight-loss treatments (5).
Specific psychological cues seem to trigger consumption of sugary snacks: dieting (6), stress (7), negative mood (3), and exposure to cues that are associated with the past use of sugary snacks (8). Experimental studies also have shown that the intake of high-kilojoule sugary snacks leads to an immediate reduction of emotional tension and to a decrease in tiredness in the short term, but increases both tension and tiredness in the long term (9).
When snacking becomes a bad habit and is poorly regulated, short bouts of physical activity could be valuable for reducing the urge to overeat, the new study suggests, especially when an individual is particularly vulnerable.
- Ledochowski L, Ruedl G, Taylor AH, Kopp M. Acute effects of brisk walking on sugary snack cravings in overweight people, affect and responses to a manipulated stress situation and to a sugary snack cue: a crossover study. PloS one 2014;10:e0119278.
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- Thayer RE. Calm energy: How people regulate mood with food and exercise. Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Hamer M, Taylor A, Steptoe A. The effect of acute aerobic exercise on stress related blood pressure responses: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biological psychology 2006;71:183-90.
- Cepeda-Benito A, Gleaves DH, Williams TL, Erath SA. The development and validation of the state and trait food-cravings questionnaires. Behavior Therapy 2001;31:151-73.
- Polivy J, Coleman J, Herman CP. The effect of deprivation on food cravings and eating behavior in restrained and unrestrained eaters. International Journal of Eating Disorders 2005;38:301-9.
- Adam TC, Epel ES. Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & behavior 2007;91:449-58.
- Ouwehand C, Ridder DT. Effects of temptation and weight on hedonics and motivation to eat in women. Obesity 2008;16:1788-93.
- Thayer RE. Energy, tiredness, and tension effects of a sugar snack versus moderate exercise. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1987;52:119.