Taking Steps to Reduce Smoking

Moderate exercise reduced want and need to smoke

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Quitting smoking is a tough task for most smokers. One healthy activity might be a great place to start.

Following up on previous studies, two scientists conducted experiments to see if exercise could decrease how much people wanted to smoke.

The researchers found that moderate exercise delayed the cravings and urge to smoke.

"Get active to reduce your urge to smoke."

Allison N. Kurti, MS, and Jesse Dallery, PhD, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, conducted this study.

The research involved two different experiments using smokers aged 18 to 55 who wanted to quit. The average age of these participants was 35 to 39, and they had been smoking for an average of 16 to 17 years. The participants smoked an average of about a pack a day.

The participants began the experiments by smoking half of a cigarette. After that time, there was a one hour no-smoking time during which the study subjects could watch TV and DVDs, use the Internet and read health-related magazines.

At the end of the no-smoking hour, the subjects participated in the two different experiments.

Twenty-one people participated in the first experiment. In this experiment, after the non-smoking hour, the participants completed a questionnaire that evaluated how much they wanted to smoke and how much they had a need to smoke. Cravings were measured on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 was none and 100 was extreme.

The questionnaire was followed by 20 minutes of either no activity, low intensity exercise or moderate intensity exercise. After that part of the experiment, the participants completed the questionnaire again and every 10 minutes for 60 minutes.

Results of the first experiment showed that, compared to smokers who didn't exercise, participants' desire to smoke decreased immediately and for 30 minutes following moderate exercise.

The range of values on the smoking questionnaire for participants who did not exercise was 70 to 79. For those who did moderately intense exercise, scores ranged from 41 to 60, indicating smoking cravings decreased for the group who exercised.

In the second experiment, 20 participants completed the smoking questionnaire after the non-smoking hour and then were assigned to either a moderate exercise session or a session of no activity. Each session lasted 20 minutes and was repeated twice. After the exercise sessions, the subjects completed the questionnaire again and had a two-hour period during which they could read health magazines, use the internet, watch TV or smoke.

In this experiment, the desire to smoke as measured by responses to the questionnaire was about 12 points lower after exercise than before exercise. The smokers who exercised also had a lower need to smoke than before they exercised.

The group of smokers who performed moderate exercise in this experiment waited a longer time until they smoked during the two-hour period. The exercise group waited almost 21 minutes before having a cigarette, compared with 4 minutes in the group who did not exercise.

The authors noted that their study was limited by the small number of women in the study and the small number of participants overall.

The authors commented, “The fact that relatively brief bouts of exercise decrease craving implies that exercise may be a useful way for smokers to cope with craving during quit attempts. … In addition, exercise offers benefits that other behavioral and pharmacological treatments do not."

"Collectively, these data suggest that exercise may be a promising approach to promoting cessation among the 70 percent of current smokers who want to quit,” the authors concluded.

This study will appear in the June issue of Addictive Behaviors.

The University of Florida provided funding for the research.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 10, 2014
Last Updated:
April 11, 2014