"Self-expanding activities" may be the way to cut back on smoking or even quit altogether. But that begs the obvious question: what is a self-expanding activity?
A self-expanding activity is simply another term for any type of exciting, new and different activities you replace with smoking. The whole idea is to replace the reward you get from smoking with a new, and hopefully healthier, reward.
Idaho State University is working with several universities and organizations on a new study. The new study uses neuro-imaging to measure brain activity and look for changes in blood flow. Blood flow is something smoking changes within a person's body, and something researchers are hoping could give them clues on how someone can quit.
The point of the study is to find out why it's so hard for people to quit. One of the researchers on the study said the average amount of times people put all their effort into quitting is five times before they quit for good.
"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence of people who try to quit on addiction and pick up something else,” said Dr. Xiaomeng “Mona” Xu, ISU assistant professor of psychology. “It's very difficult to give up something rewarding and have nothing to fulfill that space."
Xu says this stemmed from a much different kind of research she was working on.
"Originally we were doing romantic love research with the [fMRI – functional magentic resonance imaging] scanner,” Xu said. “What does falling in love look like in the brain? It looks a lot like an addiction."
So Xu says replacing an addiction like smoking with a new habit is very beneficial. One strong suggestion to stop smoking is physical activity of any kind.
“In terms of health, it's the closest thing to a magic bullet,” she said. “So we always recommend physical activity because it helps with mood, it helps with energy and it helps with weight control, particularly if you're worried that quitting smoking you might gain some weight."
Xu says it's very common to be worried about gaining weight when you want to quit smoking.
"You're missing out this movement, oral buccal movement,” she said, putting her hand back and forth to her mouth. “So you might be eating more to compensate, or you can taste things for the first time in a long time, so things taste better, so you might be eating more that way.”
For those who might not be able to be active, reading a good book or solving puzzles can activate the same areas of the brain as nicotine.