Exercise against bad habits

Healthy lifestyle

Exercise against bad habits

21 Aug 2017


John Raty, a physician and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, believes that exercise not only helps keep our bodies in good shape, but also relieves us of stress, depression and bad habits. Let’s find out how this process works.

The nature of stress

The nature of stress is such that it links the desire to give up some kind of addiction with the question of survival. For example, if you suddenly stop drinking, then you turn off the dopamine “tap” on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is immediately unbalanced. The acute physiological troubles caused by alcohol withdrawal last only a few days, but our central nervous system feels them for much longer.

If, at the moment of a vulnerable state, you are faced with stress, the brain perceives the situation as an emergency and immediately sends a signal that makes you look for alcohol. This is how a conflict at work or with a loved one can trigger a relapse into addiction. For a person who has developed an addiction to his doping and changed the entire dopamine system, in a stressful situation there is only one way out – a drug (he does not know another). However, there is an alternative: exercise.

Rodent experiment

Experiments by Iranian scientists have shown how exercise affects rats that are injected with morphine. The researchers hypothesized that because locomotor activity increases dopamine levels and neuroplasticity in the same areas of the brain that govern addiction and learning, they may also counteract the memory loss experienced by drug addicts during their highs. Scientists prepared the animals by placing them first in a dark cage, where light shocks of current were sent to their paws on the floor. Then they measured the time it took for the rats to move to another cage, where they were not irritated by the current, but it was light (rodents prefer darkness).

The rats were divided into four groups: the first ran on a treadmill and received an injection of morphine before each experiment; the second also ran, but received a placebo injection; the third received morphine, but did not run; and the fourth was a control in which the rats did not run and did not receive injections. Both actively moving groups remembered well that a dark cage was bad: they hesitated for a long time at the entrance and tried to leave it faster after the electric shock. To the surprise of the scientists, the first, second and third groups of rats performed better than the control group. This indicated that exercise was defeating the brain-fogging effects of the drug.

Physical education and alcohol

However, sport has a positive effect not only on rodents. A 2004 London study found that even 10 minutes of exercise can relieve cravings for alcohol. Scientists divided 40 hospital patients who had just undergone detoxification into two groups: one exercising on a stationary bike with a moderate load, the other with a light exercise. The next day, the groups changed tasks, and it turned out that the desire for alcohol in the first group significantly decreased.

Sports and smoking

Smokers can benefit from as little as five minutes of intense exercise. Nicotine stands out among the addictive substances. The fact is that it is both a relaxant and a stimulant. Exercise fights smoking well because, in addition to smoothly increasing dopamine levels, it reduces anxiety, tension and stress, the physical irritations so often present in people trying to quit smoking.

Physical activity can reduce the urge to smoke by about 50 minutes, doubling or even tripling the interval until the next cigarette.

Another factor that plays a role here is that bodily tension, as a rule, clarifies the mind, since one of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal is a weakening of attention.

How to deal with other bad habits, understand the chemical processes of our brain and learn to live proactively will be told in the book “Light Yourself!”.

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