Exercise as it relates to Disease/The Effect of Exercise on Smoking Cessation

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Tobacco smoking is a worldwide issue, one that receives well deserved attention from many health and well-being professionals in the Western world. Although the education regarding the negative effects of smoking is becoming more widespread, the adictability of tobacco and the inability of people dependent on this to quit, other methods must be found to cure this smoking epidemic.


Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the world, with an estimated 4.9 million tobacco related deaths per year.[1] In Australia there are around 3.1 million current smokers, with the vast majority of these people smoking daily.[2] Of all those who smoke, over half are reported as wanting to quit and of those 50%, only 2-4% are likely to abstain from smoking for twelve months [3]

The Adictability of Cigarettes[edit]

There are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, many with household uses as cleaning agents. The adictive aspect of the cigarette can be attributed to the presence of nicotine. Nicotine takes about fourteen seconds to reach the brain after ingestion and once the nicotine has attached itself to special sites in the brain, many relaxing chemicals are released. It is these relaxing chemicals that many cigarette smokers depend on and become adicticted to. Nicatine is as addictive as heroin or cocain [4]

Why Quit?[edit]

Excess mortality associated with smoking chiefly involved vascular, neoplastic, and respiratory diseases that can be caused by smoking. Men born in 1900-1930 who smoked only cigarettes and continued smoking died on average about 10 years younger than lifelong non-smokers. Cessation at age 60, 50, 40, or 30 years gained, respectively, about 3, 6, 9, or 10 years of life expectancy.[5] Smoking inhibits normal respiritory, circulatory and renal functioning as well as many other body functions.

What Does Exercise Do?[edit]

Exercise has the following effect on smoking cessation:

Effect of Exercise Why Important?
Reductions were observed in ratings of a desire for a cigarette, strength of desire to smoke, irritability, tension, restlessness, and perceived stress Irritability, tension, restlessness and perceived stress are often given as reasons why individuals smoke or why they cannot quit. Exercise replaces cigarettes in countering these psychological issues therfore, giving a smoker less reasons to hold on to their damaging addiction.
Positive effects on smoking withdrawal symptoms Ensures a greater chance of quitting on the first attempt. Withdrawal is a physical reaction to the absence of nicotine after dependency occurs, reducing the symptoms of withdrawal greatly increases the chances of continuous abstinence to smoking.
Potential advantage of mitigating weight gain Weight gain is seen as a concern to many smokers and is given by many as a reason to start smoking. Regular exercise also increases energy expenditure, thereby helping to offset the transient increase in energy intake and decrease in metabolic rate that is reported during smoking cessation[6]

How Much Exercise is Needed?[edit]

Studies suggest that after completing a relatively short bout of moderate intensity exercise smoking cravings are reduced. There are reductions in desire for a cigarette, restlessness and strength of desire to smoke, within light exercisers as well athlough these effects returned to normal after exercise [7] Therefore, moderate or intense activity is seen to have more substantial, longer lasting effects on smoking cessation than light exercise.


For exercise to be medicated as a method of assisting the cessation of smoking, more studies must be undertaken. The current studies are contradictory on whether smoking is effective when attempting to quit and, if so, what intensity of exercise is ideal. The current recommendation must be, exercise alone is not sufficient to quit smoking. Other cessation methods must be used as well as exercise for it to have any effect.

Recommended Reading[edit]


  1. World Health Organisation (2003). An international treaty for tobacco control. Geneva: World Health Organisation.
  2. The Australian Beauro of Statistics (2013). Gender Indicators, Australia, Jan 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4125.0main+features3320Jan%202013
  3. Hughes, J (1992). Tobacco withdrawal in self-quitters. J Consult Clin Psychol, Volume 60, pg 689-697
  4. NSW Ministry of Health (2007). Nicotine and Other Poisons. Retrieved from: http://www0.health.nsw.gov.au/factsheets/general/nicotine.html
  5. Ussher, M.H. Taylor, A. Faulkner, G. (2012). Exercise Interventions for Smoking Cessation (Review). The Cochrane Library 2012, Volume 1
  6. Marcus, B.H.PhD. Albrecht, A.E. King, T.K.PhD. Parisi, A.F.MD. Pinto, B.M.PhD. Roberts, M.MS. Niaura, R.S.PhD. Abrams, D.B.PhD. (1999). The Efficacy of Exercise as an Aid for Smoking Cessation in Women. Arch Intern Med, Volume 159, pg 1229-1234
  7. Byron-Daniel, J.Z. Cropley, M. Ussher, M. West, R. (2004). Acute Effects of a Short Bout of Moderate Verses Light Intensity Exercise Verses Inactivity on Tobacco Withdrawal Symptoms in Sedantry Smokers. Psychopharmacology, Volume 174, pg 320-326