PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Women who exercised vigorously while trying to quit smoking were twice as likely to kick the habit and gained about half the weight of women who also tried to quit but didn't do the workouts, says a new study.
Fear of gaining weight is the primary reason many women give for not quitting smoking. The findings suggest that women may be more likely to stop smoking and to stay smoke free if they exercise.
Physical exertion limits weight gain and may help smokers to better handle stress, said Bess Marcus, lead author of the "Commit to Quit" study in the June 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. She is an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Brown University Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in the School of Medicine. The research was conducted through the Center and the Division of Cardiology, both located at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.
The study of 281 healthy but sedentary female smokers investigated the effects of combining a smoking cessation program with vigorous exercise. The women ranged in age from 18 to 65 and had smoked regularly for at least a year.
Of the 281 women in the study, a control group of 147 attended a weekly smoking cessation program and three-times-per-week wellness sessions for 12 weeks. The other 134 women attended the smoking cessation program and participated in supervised exercise sessions three times weekly for 12 weeks.
The researchers found that exercise subjects were twice as likely as those not exercising to quit smoking and to stay smoke free. At the end of 12 weeks, 19.4 percent of exercisers had kicked the habit for at least two months compared to 10.2 percent of the control group; three months later, 16.4 percent vs. 8.2 percent, respectively, were still smoke free; and one year following treatment, 11.9 percent vs. 5.4 percent remained smoke free. In addition, by the end of treatment, the women who exercised had gained about half the weight of those in the control group, and were in significantly better physical shape.
The powerful effect of exercise was most obvious among women who attended most of the workouts. Of these women, 47.2 percent had ceased smoking and stayed cigarette-free compared to 28.9 percent of the non-exercise group at the end of 12 weeks. A year after the program ended, 27.8 percent of women who had adhered to the exercise regimen had not smoked compared to 18.1 percent of non-exercisers.
The findings are comparable to some of the best behavioral and pharmacological studies, the authors said. Because the study did not use any nicotine replacement therapy, such as gum or a patch, the results mean that exercise can be an effective alternative regimen for smokers who may not wish to use nicotine replacement therapy, they said.
"The study results clearly indicate that smoking cessation programs designed for women can be significantly more successful than generic programs," said Marcus. "We can build in measures to help women cope with fears of gaining weight if they stop smoking."
Marcus said that men trying to quit smoking would also benefit from exercise. She urges physicians to recommend exercise to both female and male patients who want to quit smoking. Marcus is involved in several projects that help physicians counsel patients to include exercise in their daily routines. "There are numerous health benefits to participating in an exercise program," she said. "For starters, exercise helps you manage weight, stress, mood, anxiety, depression and blood lipids."
The project was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute and funding from the Office of Research on Women's Health.
The researchers are currently recruiting women for a new eight-week study to examine the effects of combining moderate intensity exercise with a smoking cessation program.
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