It’s a simple and straightforward theory: smoking is generally believed to be detrimental to your health, and exercise is beneficial. Although they are fully aware of this, many women who smoke are unwilling and unable to quit because they are concerned that doing so will cause them to gain weight. Smoking can curb appetite, decrease stress and anxiety, and improve mood. But so can exercise. Therefore, Uma S. Nair of the Department of Public Health at Temple University in Pennsylvania wanted to see if engaging in physical activity could help women quit smoking. In a recent study, Nair assessed how strong the urge to smoke was in a group of physically active and sedentary women smokers after they engaged in intense exercise. She measured the time between exercise and the first puff of cigarette and also the severity of urge in the women both prior to and immediately following the physical activity.
Nair found that after they exercised, all of the women reported weakened urges to smoke. However, the time from baseline to first puff was not longer than it was when they did not exercise. These findings were the same in both groups of women, suggesting that engaging in physical activity on a regular basis may not decrease urge alone. Nair found, after considering body image, depressive symptoms, and other factors, the burst of intense activity decreased the urge to smoke the most. As the length of exercise was increased, the urge to smoke diminished even more. This suggests that engaging in vigorous exercise for longer durations can help women achieve the same feelings they may get from smoking. For women who are concerned with body image and weight, adding this type of exercise to their daily routine could help them kick the habit without gaining weight. Nair also acknowledges that her study did not look at a diverse participant sample. Smoking is just as harmful to people of every gender and race. Nair said, “Thus, future studies need to examine these relationships across different populations, especially considering the need to reduce tobacco-related health disparities across diverse racial and ethnic groups.”
Nair, U. S., Collins, B. N., and Napolitano, M. A. (2012). Differential effects of a body image exposure session on smoking urge between physically active and sedentary female smokers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031367
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