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June 2023
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Reducing Cigarette Cravings Just a Walk Away (Literally)

Moderate Bouts of Exercise Reduces Cigarette Cravings, Study Finds

University of Exeter researchers produce second study showing how smoking can help someone quit by reducing its appeal.

University of Exeter researchers produce second study showing how smoking can help someone quit by reducing its appeal.

From patches to hypnosis, gum to acupuncture, people have tried anything and everything to quit smoking. But the best help yet may be found at your local gym, your local park or in your backyard.

According to researchers from the University of Exeter, getting out and exercising can be an extremely effective tool in reducing someone’s desire to smoke as it seems to minimize smoking’s attractiveness and appeal.

To study exercise’s impact, researchers recruited 20 men and women who smoked regularly.  Before they broke off into groups, they were all shown visual displays of people smoking, similar to the ones we were used to seeing on the backs of magazine covers and on billboards.  They were shown neutral pictures as well where the pictures were not meant to titillate their desire to smoke.

They then had each of the participants do one of two things: sit for 15 minutes or exercise at a moderate intensity for 15 minutes on a stationary bike.  Once the 15 minutes were up, they were shown the same pictures as before.  Both groups exercised or sat at least once.

Thanks to the use of eye-tracking technology, which analyzed each of the participants’ eyes to see how long or how short they were trained on the pictures, they found an 11 percent difference in the average amount of time spent looking at the smoking pictures compared to the neutral pictures.  In other words, people who exercised spent more time looking at the neutral images than they did the smoking images.  Or to put it in yet another way, the smoking images were able to grab and keep the attention of the sitters more than it did the exercisers.

The study is published in the journal Addiction and piggybacks on a separate study the University of Exeter performed this past February.  In that study, researchers found that exercise significantly reduced participants’ desire to smoke, as they reported diminished cravings post-exercise.

To me, this study is significant but not altogether surprising.  It’s well known that exercise stimulates a greater production of endorphins, which help us to feel happy and content.  Similarly, especially during intense bouts of exercise, images of juicy hamburgers on the tube are not as appealing on the treadmill as they are when we’re plopped on the sofa.  That’s partly because exercise serves as a distraction, but it’s also because exercise chemically alters the brain.  Any old distraction isn’t going to reduce your desire to smoke or eat, as anyone who’s read a book or a magazine in front of the TV will tell you.

What it is about exercise that chemically alters the brain is anyone’s guess.  That’s a matter future studies will consider.

In the meantime, as difficult as exercise may be, as little as 10 to 15 minutes of it at a moderate intensity can really help reduce cravings (the participants in this study had gone without a cigarette for nearly a day prior to the start of the study).  Try it for yourself and see if it works for you.  Who knows, you may love to exercise so much that it becomes a new habit.


Related Posts

  1. Better Health is a Walk in the Park
  2. Redoubling Your Efforts: Researchers: For Weight Loss to Stay Lost, Obese Must Go the Extra Mile (Literally)
  3. Walking Away from Temptation
  4. Walk to Lower Blood Pressure
  5. Smoking Cessation: How Best to ‘Pack’ It In

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