Beat Cigarette Cravings with Exercise

Beat Cigarette Cravings with Exercise

Healthnotes Newswire (November 11, 2004)—Engaging in moderate-intensity exercise may help decrease cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking, reports Psychopharmacology (2004;174:320–6).

Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the US. It accounts for one-third of all cancer deaths each year, including deaths from lung, esophageal, pancreatic, kidney, and cervical cancer. Quitting smoking greatly reduces the chance of developing and dying from cancer. Smokers are also more likely to develop emphysema, heart disease, circulation problems, and high blood pressure.

Some people choose to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help them quit smoking in the form of patches, gum, nasal sprays, and inhalers. Side effects of these products may include dizziness, headache, nervousness, coughing, and seizures. The side effects of Bupropion (Zyban™), an antidepressant used to treat nicotine addiction, include nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and irregular heart beat. Combining drug treatment with counseling may result in better success when trying to quit smoking. However, because these treatments are not always successful, and because they can cause side effects, new approaches to smoking cessation are needed.

Recent studies suggest that exercise may be useful as part of a plan to stop smoking. The new study investigated the effect of a brief bout of exercise on cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms from cigarette smoking in 84 people. The participants had smoked at least ten cigarettes per day for at least two years prior to the study, and led an inactive lifestyle. After refraining from smoking for 11 to 14 hours, the participants attended a lab to begin testing. The men and women were assigned to one of three groups: 5 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, 5 minutes of light-intensity exercise, or no exercise (control group). Withdrawal symptoms and cigarette cravings (including strength of cravings, irritability, depression, tension, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, perceived stress) were measured in all treatment groups; in the exercise groups, participants were evaluated before starting exercise, after 2.5 minutes of exercise, immediately after exercise, and after 5 and 10 minutes of rest.

Cigarette cravings were significantly reduced at all times in the moderate-exercise group compared with the light-exercise group. The moderate exercise group had significantly reduced cravings compared with the control group, until 5 minutes after exercising. Other studies have shown that a 10-minute bout of moderate-intensity exercise resulted in longer periods of reduced cravings. The withdrawal symptoms of irritability, tension, restlessness, stress, and poor concentration were reduced significantly in the moderate-exercise group compared with the control group or the light-exercise group immediately after or 5 to 10 minutes after exercise. These findings suggest that a short bout of moderate-intensity exercise has a beneficial effect on cigarette withdrawal symptoms and cigarette cravings.

Although the current study only tested short-term effects of exercise, the results are consistent with earlier observations that people who engage in aerobic exercise programs have an easier time quitting smoking. Adding exercise to a smoking cessation program may also result in weight loss and improved cardiovascular health.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.

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