Trying New Things

It’s no secret that trying new things is a good way to keep life interesting, but research suggests it can also improve your health by helping you lose weight and kick habits like smoking.

In 2010, a group of psychologists from Stony Brook University had the idea that the buzz from engaging in new activities that are exciting, interesting or challenging might be able to take the place of the reward associated with smoking, making it easier for people to quit.

To test this hypothesis, they recruited 74 current smokers and 66 former smokers. They then asked the participants about experiences with what the researchers called self-expanding events.

Overall, former smokers reported more self-expanding events than current smokers. Among current smokers, experiencing more self-expanding events was linked to going more consecutive days without smoking.

In other words, for both current smokers and the group as a whole, self-expanding events were related to abstaining from smoking. According to the researchers, one possible reason for this is that because both smoking and trying new things activate the reward system in similar ways, doing one can “substitute” for doing the other to some extent.

More recently, another team of researchers, including some from the original 2010 study, decided to look at something else that activates the reward system: food.

In a study published this year, they looked at whether trying new things could help people lose weight. They recruited 239 people from a 12-week weight loss intervention and again asked participants to report self-expanding events.

At the end of the 12 weeks, it turned out that people who experienced more self-expanding events adhered to the weight-loss program more closely, engaged in more physical activity, and lost more weight. The fact that trying new things seems to help with both quitting smoking and losing weight suggests it could also be relevant to other health interventions and addictive behaviors.

So now there are two good reasons to make a point of trying new things: it’s fun, and it’s healthy. And by keeping your brain happy and energized, it might even help you quit smoking, lose weight, or succeed with other changes you’re looking to make in your life!

Image: FreeImages.com/Matthew Bowden