Trying to quit smoking? Demolish your dependence on fatty foods? Stop a self-destructive addiction? You can do away with bad habits by running, strength training, and yoga.
IF YOU’RE HOOKED to one of the deadliest bad habits—like binge-eating artery-clogging foods, drinking alcohol in excess, or smoking cigarettes—and these vices have a hold on your self-control, then the best fix might be a little sweat therapy.
That’s right: Exercise is one of the healthiest and most effective methods to ditch a bad habit (even if it’s not the easiest method).
Here, clinical sport psychologist Gloria Petruzzelli, M.D., highlights how and why working out has such a powerful, positive influence on your life.
1. Exercise lights up your reward center and circulates feel-good chemicals
“Humans are learning creatures, so if you grew up seeing your parents use alcohol, cigarettes, or food to deal with stress, or other emotions, you’re more likely to repeat that pattern,” Petruzzelli says. Plus, most bad habits hit all your pleasure marks. Anything that feels good in the moment is something you’re going to want to experience again, right?
Here’s the problem: When your brain experiences pleasurable stimulation, dopamine—the “reward chemical”—floods your brain. So, even though you know you’re doing something “bad,” it’s really difficult to kick because your body craves that high.
“Luckily, like bad habits, exercise also stimulates pleasurable neurochemicals, such as endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, so it’ll only be a matter of time before your brain gets fixated on working out,” she says.
2. Working out dulls withdrawal symptoms
“Others struggle to quit bad habits because they experience emotional distress when the ‘habit’ is removed, which we call withdrawal symptoms,” Petruzzelli says. The fix? Moderate-intensity exercise lessens the desire to smoke and dulls withdrawal backlash, research shows. Exercise can curb irritability, stress, depression, and restlessness, researchers say.