Brisk Walk Can Curb Chocolate Cravings

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Assuming you’d want to avoid chocolate, a short, brisk walk could help curb your cocoa cravings, a new study suggests.

While chocolate is fine as an occasional indulgence (and dark chocolate in small doses could even help the heart), too much of a good thing can be bad for the body.

Researchers at the University of Exeter had 25 regular chocolate eaters abstain from their favorite snack for three days. They were then assigned to either take a brisk 15-minute walk or to rest.

The participants then performed tasks that would normally increase their chocolate jones, including a mental challenge and opening a chocolate bar. The walkers reported lower cravings both during the walk and for about 10 minutes afterward. They were also less likely to be tempted by unwrapping the candy bar.

Walking has been shown before to reduce cravings for nicotine and other drugs; the new findings, detailed online in the journal Appetite, suggest the same can apply to cravings for munchies.

"Our ongoing work consistently shows that brief bouts of physical activity reduce cigarette cravings, but this is the first study to link exercise to reduced chocolate cravings," said study team member Adrian Taylor. "Neuroscientists have suggested common processes in the reward centers of the brain between drug and food addictions, and it may be that exercise effects brain chemicals that help to regulate mood and cravings."

The findings suggest that walking could help people lose weight by curbing their cravings for sugar snacks, Taylor said.

Previous research has suggested that 97 percent of women and 68 percent of men experience food cravings, and chocolate has a prominent place on the list of go-to snacks. One study has suggested that chocolate cravings are the result of having particular bacteria residing in the stomach.

Chocolate also has chemicals that temporarily boost our mood, making it particularly attractive under times of stress or when just sitting around. Though one scientist says it’s the temptation of chocolate that makes it so irresistible.

Walking can have the same mood-regulating effect, without all the sugar, fat and calories.

"Short bouts of physical activity can help to regulate how energized and pleasant we feel, and with a sedentary lifestyle we may naturally turn to mood-regulating behaviors such as eating chocolate," Taylor said.

Andrea Thompson
Live Science Contributor

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.