Exercise kills cravings. Another duh:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2009) — Research from the University of Exeter reveals for the first time, that changes in brain activity, triggered by physical exercise, may help reduce cigarette cravings. Published in the journal Psychopharmacology, the study shows how exercise changes the way the brain processes information among smokers, thereby reducing their cravings for nicotine. For the first time, researchers used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes images of cigarettes after exercise.

The study adds weight to a growing body of evidence that exercise can help manage addiction to nicotine and other substances. It backs up previous studies, which have shown that just one short burst of moderate exercise can significantly reduce smokers’ nicotine cravings.

(Thanks, Cindy)

I have direct experience of this. I’ve written about it in my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party. Here’s an excerpt from that (in the form of two diary entries and comments):

9th July 1984

[…] I’m so bloody hot and sticky, I wish this weather would break. Karate tomorrow will be unbearable if it’s not any cooler by then […]

Oh–I’ve had more accidents–both legs temporarily out of action–which might explain some of my irritability at the moment. At karate I tore my calf-muscle–agony–& the next morning I hobbled into my room to get some clean underwear, didn’t realise that some prick had shot the window through (not really the sort of thing you look for first thing in the morning!) and trod on a pile of glass. Right leg & left leg out of action. Shit. Oh well, the cut foot’s better now, even if the muscle isn’t.

Karate, in the Springbank Community Centre with its concrete floor; no heat in winter, no air conditioning in summer. No shower, no changing room. All men–until I and four friends show up. It was a hard school. No compromises. This is where I learnt the value of conscious will, learnt that I could run five miles, then do a hundred and sixty pushups, then sit in zazen on the concrete floor with a pole on my arms for forty minutes. If you set your will, you can do anything.

But karate was simply the conscious understanding of will. I’d been setting my will against the world and its homophobia for years. Carol and I had been harassed continually by the police; someone once pushed burning rags through the door trying to set the house on fire; a group of men tried to break down the front door, yelling about how they’d rape us, show us what we were missing. And on and on. For reasons I can’t fathom, I never really took it that seriously. This diary entry is pretty typical of my attitude, which is, Shit happens, let’s have a drink! Not that much different, really, from the attitude of that four year-old who made all those crayon pictures.

20th August 1984

Wrote a fable last week–I like it, but it seems very heavy-handed & clumsy. Still, makes a change from epics!

It was, truly, an awful fable. I might still have it in a box in storage somewhere. Be glad (be very glad) that I couldn’t find it to reproduce here.

And it was on August the 24th that I smoked my last cigarette. Every time the craving got bad–and, oh, it got bad; I’d been smoking for fifteen years; and Carol didn’t give up, or any of my friends–I dropped and gave myself twenty pushups.

Just a month or so later I smoked my last hash and snorted my last amphetamines. The combination of finally using both body and mind as hard as I could was enough. That is, I’d found two new addictions–writing and martial arts–to take the place of drugs.

Writing is addictive. It’s a rush–at least the first draft is. Rewriting can be less heady.

And that’s the trick: replace one joy circuit with another. I loved exercise (I still do, but my options are much more limited), I loved writing (still do, and my options are much wider, yay!) Every now and again I dream of some drug or other (smoking, mostly) and wake up with a vague longing. But that longing is a habit. I shrug, shake off the dream, and go about my life. Because I have a life. That’s the difference between harmful, arrested-development addiction and joy. Addiction is all about warping the life in order to score the drug, and taking the drug is often about blotting out life; it’s about narrowing one’s experience, deliberately not learning and growing.

Writing is different. Yes, it’s a rush. Sometimes it gets out of hand; I work too long for too many days in a row, and it interferes with Normal Life (y’know, friends, family, health). But mostly it’s a valuable (indispensible) part of my life. It’s my job, my joy, my primary tool for exploring the world–for deliberately seeking that change and growth that many drug addictions obviate.

Where am I going with this? I’m not sure. Just thinking aloud.