Quitting smoking and exercise

Fight Cravings with Exercise

Exercise can distract you and keep you busy until the craving passes.

Exercise has other benefits too:

  • Studies show that even short periods of physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, reduce the urge to smoke. Aerobic exercise is physical activity that makes you sweat, causes you to breathe harder, and gets your heart beating faster. It strengthens your heart and lungs. Walking, swimming, running, dancing, cycling, and boxing are a few types of aerobic exercise.
  • Withdrawal symptoms and cravings for cigarettes decrease during exercise and up to 50 minutes after exercising.
  • Exercise decreases appetite and helps limit the weight gain some people have when they quit smoking.
  • Exercise helps you cope with stress and have more energy.
  • Exercise can improve your mood. If you’re feeling low, take a walk, jump rope, or run up and down the stairs.

Get Physical!

Here are some tips to get you started with exercise and help you ride out cravings:

  • Try to set aside a regular time for exercise that works with your schedule.
  • Try for 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Don’t have 30 minutes? Studies show that exercising for 10 minutes three times a day gives the same benefits as 30 minutes of non-stop exercise.
  • Do activities you enjoy. Walking is one way of getting more physical activity. You might also think about biking, swimming, dancing, or yoga. Even housework or gardening can provide exercise benefits. Playing music while you clean out your closets will help you step up the pace.
  • Build exercise into other activities. Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. At the mall, use the stairs instead of the escalator. Wherever you go, park your car farther away and walk to your destination.
  • Plan activities with family, friends, or co-workers that include physical activity. Maybe a hike or volleyball game.
  • Change your exercise routine or try a new activity from time to time so you don’t get bored.

How exercise can help you to quit smoking

Today is the first day of the New Year — the day you promised yourself you’d quit smoking. If you’re finding it hard, try working out! New research shows how exercising may reduce tobacco withdrawal symptoms.

Share on PinterestNew research shows how exercise can help you kick the habit once and for all.

We all know that smoking is bad for us, but quitting can be hard. Withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, trouble sleeping, or even depression are commonly reported by people struggling with tobacco addiction.

In addition to specialized support services that might help you to deal with these symptoms, meditation and avoiding smoking triggers are also helpful methods.

Exercise is known to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Older studies have shown that even a short 10-minute bout of moderate exercise can have immediate effects of reducing tobacco cravings.

The exact mechanisms responsible for this effect remain largely unknown. But new research brings us closer to understanding these mechanisms, as it shows how various degrees of exercise intensity affect nicotine cravings in mice.

Dr. Alexis Bailey, senior lecturer in neuropharmacology at St George’s University of London in the United Kingdom, is the corresponding author of the study, and the findings were published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

How exercise helps nicotine-dependent mice

Dr. Bailey and his team treated mice with nicotine for 14 days and then subjected them to one of three wheel running regimens: 24 hours per day, 2 hours per day, or no exercise at all.

On the 14th day, the researchers assessed the rodents’ withdrawal symptoms. Brain sections of the mice were also analyzed.

It was found that “nicotine-treated mice undertaking 2 or 24 hrs day wheel running displayed a significant reduction of withdrawal symptom severity compared with the sedentary group.”

Additionally, in the mice that exercised, the researchers were able to see an increase in the activity of a type of nicotine brain receptor called alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine. The receptor was located in the mice’s hippocampus, a brain area associated with creating new memories and implicated in mood disorders.

Interestingly, 2 hours of exercise every day seemed to be just as good for relieving withdrawal symptoms as exercising continuously for 24 hours. This suggests that the beneficial effects of exercise do not depend on the intensity of the exercise.

“These findings support the protective effect of exercise preceding smoking cessation against the development of physical dependence, which may aid smoking cessation by reducing withdrawal symptom severity,” write the authors.

As the team explains, “ur results demonstrate the effectiveness of even a moderate amount of exercise during nicotine exposure in attenuating nicotine withdrawal symptoms and point toward the hippocampal system as a potential mechanism underlying this effect.”

“These findings may also have implications for the development of targeted interventions prior to smoking cessation which may increase the chances of smoking cessation,” add Dr. Bailey and colleagues.

To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first time that such a profound effect of exercise on animals addicted to nicotine has been shown in a study.

“The evidence suggests that exercise decreases nicotine withdrawal symptoms in humans Our research has shed light on how the protective effect of exercise against nicotine dependence actually works.”

Dr. Alexis Bailey

However, the study authors also caution that the evidence is not yet sufficient to establish causality between the increased activity of the hippocampal nicotine receptor and the beneficial effects of exercise.

Can exercise help people quit smoking?


We reviewed the evidence about whether exercise helps people who want to quit smoking, or have recently stopped smoking, to stop smoking for at least six months. Taking regular exercise may help people give up smoking by helping with cigarette withdrawal and cravings, and by helping them to manage weight gain, which can be a concern among people trying to quit.

Study characteristics

We found 24 studies with a total of 7279 people. Two studies focused on helping those who had recently stopped smoking and the rest of the studies included current smokers who wished to quit. All the studies were conducted with adults. Eleven studies were with women only and one with men only. Most studies recruited fairly inactive people. Most studies offered supervised and group-based, aerobic-type exercise. The evidence is up-to-date to May 2019.

Key results

When we combined the results of 21 studies (6607 participants) which compared exercise and smoking-cessation programmes to smoking cessation programmes alone, there was no evidence that exercise increased quit rates at six months or longer. There was no evidence that the effect was different for different types of exercise. When we combined results from two studies (453 participants), there was no evidence that exercise helped people who had recently quit to stay quit.

Quality of evidence

We judged the quality of evidence for whether exercise programmes help people quit smoking as low certainty, suggesting that future research could change these results. The low certainty is because we cannot rule out chance as an explanation for the suggested slight benefit. It could be that exercise may not help at all, or it could be that supporting people to do exercise modestly increases quit rates. We do not know which of these is true. We also consider that a good number of the trials may be biased. We have concerns that small studies which found smaller effects were less likely to be published than small studies which found bigger effects, making the average result misleading. We judged the evidence from two studies examining whether exercise helps people to avoid relapse to smoking to be of very low certainty, again suggesting that more research is needed. This is due to imprecision of the estimated effects and a high risk of bias in the methods used by one of the studies.

Smoking and exercise – how one affects the other

Smoking not only hinders your ability to exercise effectively but it has also been discovered that exercise can actually help you to quit smoking.

Here we take a look at the effects smoking has on your exercise routines and which exercises you should be considering if you want to quit smoking.

How smoking affects your exercise

Carbon monoxide

You need oxygen in your muscles when you exercise. The more you exercise, the faster the oxygen is used up. Cigarettes contain carbon monoxide, which reduces the amount of oxygen available in your body as it binds to the haemoglobin in your red blood cells, preventing oxygen from doing so.

Bad blood

The chemicals in tobacco like nicotine and carbon monoxide can harm your blood cells and vessels. They can cause and accelerate atherosclerosis –a disease in which plaque builds up in and narrows your arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body, making exercise harder.

Effect on lungs

Smoking decreases your lung capacity, which can cause a smaller volume of oxygen to reach the bloodstream, resulting in less oxygen getting to the blood. Smoking is in fact the single biggest cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a term covering for a number of conditions like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The chemicals damage the airways and lungs which leads to the development of this long-term condition.

Takes your breath away

Smoking can literally take your breath away as it can, within seconds, cause a two- to three-fold increase in airway resistance. It can also cause chronic swelling of the mucous membranes of the airways, which adds to resistance. The tar in cigarette smoke also adds to airway resistance as it coats the lungs, reduces the elasticity of the air sacs and results in the absorption of less oxygen.

How exercise can help you quit


Exercise is a great distraction from most day-to-day annoyances – the habit to light up being just one of them. Exercising while you are trying to quit can reduce the feelings of withdrawal.

Learn about your body

Doing some exercise while you’re still smoking can show you just how much the habit has affected you. As you cut down on your smoking, you should see an improvement in your ability to exercise. Having this kind of physical record can be a great motivator to help you quit.


Not only is quitting is one of the most stressful things you can do but it means you’re actually removing one of your methods of coping with stress. Studies have shown that people smoke more when they are stressed. Exercise releases endorphins that help reduce your stress levels.

Halt the weight gain

As cigarettes are seen as an appetite suppressant, people often put on weight when they’re quitting. By taking part in some regular exercise, you can help combat this side effect to quitting.

For more tips on quitting smoking, click here.

Jan 12, 2015Online Doctor

“Quitting gives your body the chance to heal the damage that has been done by smoking,” King says. “Those benefits are going to be realized almost immediately after you quit.”

After a year, your chance of having heart disease drops to about half that of a smoker. After 5 to 15 years, your odds of having a stroke will match a nonsmoker’s.

E-cigarettes are a healthy choice.

MYTH. They’re not harmless.

The U.S. surgeon general found that the aerosol in e-cigarettes can have damaging chemicals, including nicotine, ultrafine particles you can inhale into your lungs, flavorings linked to lung disease, and heavy metals.

“What we don’t know is what the long-term effects are when people use e-cigarettes,” Hatsukami says.

Vaping may be less harmful than smoking normal cigarettes. “But safer is not the same as safe,” King says.

Smoking isn’t so bad if it’s my only vice.

MYTH. Even if you work out, eat your fruits and vegetables, and otherwise take care of yourself, it’s still not OK to smoke.

“It comes down to the fact that every cigarette that you smoke is doing you damage,” King says. “ the leading cause of preventable disease and death in this country.”

There’s no research that shows that exercise or diet can undo the impact of smoking, Hatsukami says.

After all, smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body, plus stroke, heart disease, and lung disease. “The best way to reduce the risks of smoking is to quit smoking altogether, not exercising more and eating better,” Hatsukami says.

Nicotine patches and gum are as bad for me as smoking.

MYTH. Some people think nicotine itself causes cancer, but there’s actually very little research to back that up, Hatsukami says. Though nicotine is very addictive, it’s the way it gets into your body that can be dangerous, she says.

Tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals, including more than 70 that cause cancer. “Nicotine delivered though cigarettes is very harmful — that’s the most toxic way,” she says. “But if you deliver nicotine through medicinal nicotine replacement products, the harm is dramatically less. There’s no cancer associated with nicotine products, minimal risk of heart disease, and no respiratory problems because you’re not inhaling the nicotine.”

Those products work to help you quit smoking. “We do know that when you administer nicotine over time and gradually wean people off, as is done in the patch or gum, it can help smokers quit,” King says.

Not Working Out Could Be Worse Than Cigarettes, Science Says 

And we’re not just blowing smoke up your arse.

It’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for you — but what might not be common knowledge is that avoiding exercise might be as bad for you as lighting up. Obviously, people who are fitter and exercise regularly tend to live longer than those who don’t — though we recently learned that when it comes to running, light joggers tend to outlive their faster peers. Generally speaking, any bit of physical exercise is typically viewed as a positive.

Gretchen Reynolds, a physical education columnist for The New York Times, posted a piece on the adverse effects physical stagnancy. According to Reynolds, physical inactivity is second to cigarettes in terms of increasing the risk of premature death. Previous studies that examined the effect of physical inactivity on the body only spanned over 10–20 years. While that may sound like a long time, it’s not enough to extract any causal evidence about lifespans because the majority of the participants lived longer than 10–20 years. Additionally, many of the subjects in these older experiments were older to begin with, which could potentially confound the results of the study.

To provide a better look into the case, Reynolds reintroduced a study originally conducted in 1963. The results from the 45-year follow-up to the study were recently published in the European Journal for Preventive Cardiology. “In 1963, almost 1,000 healthy 50-year-old men in Gothenburg who had been born in 1913 agreed to be studied for the rest of their lives, in order to help scientists better understand lifetime risks for disease, especially heart disease,” Reynolds writes. It’s important to note that during baseline testing, the subjects were also asked whether or not they smoked cigarettes.

The results of the study showed that cigarettes had the greatest effect on users lifespan, however, no aerobic activity was a close second. Among the participants, those who had the lowest VO2 max — which is their maximum aerobic capacity — had a 21% higher chance of dying than those subjects who had moderate VO2 max levels. This number swells up to a 42% higher chance of premature death.

That said, what I found the most shocking was Reynold’s observation that “poor fitness turned out to be unhealthier than high blood pressure or poor cholesterol profiles.” The results of the study showed that men with high blood pressure and/or poor cholesterol — who are also highly fit — tend to outlive “healthier” men who skip out on going to the gym. However, it is important to remember that this study was conducted over 50 years ago, and only made use of Swedish males as test subjects. So, it still raises some questions whether or not the results from this study are universally applicable.

In conclusion, if you’ve spent your entire life avoiding the social cigarette and avoiding the gym you’re only spiting yourself. In order to fully decrease the chance of premature death, you can’t do one or the other. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run the triathlon bi-annually to be fit. It just means you have to get out there and be active; do something that will raise your heart rate — even a simple jog around your neighborhood.

I’ll see you out there.

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