Physically Active Smokers More Likely To Kick The Habit

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Physically active smokers might have greater success quitting smoking than those who are more sedentary, according to a new study from the University of Toronto in Canada.

The study, which appears in the May issue of American Journal of Public Health, looked at the demographics of nearly 23,000 Canadian smokers. Physically active men were 36 percent more likely to have tried to quit smoking within the past year and women were 37 percent more likely to do so than their less-active peers were.

"Previous studies have suggested that participating in one healthy behavior, such as physical activity, may lead to the adoption or maintenance of another positive behavior, such as smoking cessation," said lead author Wayne deRuiter.

About one-quarter of the daily smokers studied were physically active. On average, these smokers were six years younger than sedentary smokers were. Physically active smokers, who were more likely to be male and single, began smoking at a younger age, smoked fewer cigarettes per day and tried to quit smoking more often than their inactive counterparts did.

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While the findings are encouraging, it is possible that some smokers will use physical activity as an excuse to continue smoking, according to Jennifer McClure, Ph.D., an associate investigator at the Center for Health Studies for the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle. She was not involved with the study.

"There's some caution to be used here because we don't know how well [increasing physical activity to stop smoking] would work. By telling people you can use physical activity as a harm- reduction means, this could delay or deter their efforts to quit smoking," McClure said. "This would not be the message we would want to convey."

"I've had the opportunity to speak with smokers who told me they are 'living proof' that physical activity does assist in smoking cessation," deRuiter said. "These individuals were, at one time, hardcore smokers who began walking several times throughout the day. As physical activity levels increased, they found they were smoking less until they eventually quit smoking altogether." However, he added, "I think that these individuals represent a minority."

Should sedentary smokers be encouraged to get moving as a first step toward quitting?

The researchers were not able to determine if it is possible to induce smokers who are not already physically active to adopt the lifestyle, particularly in an unsupervised environment.

McClure agreed. "If we're going to look at physical activity as a means for promoting smoking cessation or reduction, the open question really is -- for that larger group that is physically inactive -- can we motivate them to initiate that behavioral change?"

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