Move More, Smoke Less, Feel Better

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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  • ann


    January 30th, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    I know it may not be the healthiest option but smoking does seem like a much easier thing to do than a long duration exercise! I am well aware of health issues of smoking but sometimes that urge just refuses to go away.And if in moderation the ill effects are minimized too isn’t it?!

  • HUGH


    January 31st, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    Physical activity and a sustained exercise regime usually helps me in my cause of quitting. A few days of missed gym and I’m back on the cancer sticks. A very healthy way to not just stop the damage to your health but also help in gains indeed. I just hope more people learn about this and use this method in their fight against the vice-like grip of nicotine addiction.

  • zara


    January 31st, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    Exercise does this to me with food.

    I don’t smoke so I don’t know what it would be like to have that need for a cigarette, but I am an overeater so I definitely know the urge to have food!

    But once I started exercising, immediately after I would finish that desire would go away. So now as part of my regimen anytime I get that need for a snack that I know I don’t need, then I will go take a walk. And even just a short stroll getting out of the house helps me to get back into the right frame of mind.

    I have a lot of smoker friends that I have tried to tell this same thing but most of them are pretty unwilling to listen.

  • langley


    January 31st, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    is there any concern with smokers doing too much at once, that they have been so harmed from the smoke that they may inadvertently do harm if they try to do too much too soon? In addition I think that it would be ebst to tackle one problem at a time, like start exercising and working that into your day and then once that gets a little more comfortable to you then try to start cutting back on the nicotine. It’s just that I have seen too many people try to cut out too many things at once and they get so overwhelmed with it all that they simply fail to carry through.

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