The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Exercise to Help Kick the Habit!

Posted in
Live well

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Have you tried to quit smoking but been unsuccessful? Well, you’re not alone. In this country, 70% of adult smokers report that they want to quit, yet research shows that it takes the average smoker up to ten attempts to permanently stop this unhealthy behavior.1 Even with medical assistance such as nicotine replacement therapy or the aid of counseling, success rates are still relatively low.

Sounds pretty dim but there is hope and it’s not surprising (or at least not surprising to me!) that it comes in the form of EXERCISE. Researchers have looked into the effect of combining exercise with smoking cessation and the results have been promising. A study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research explored the use of resistance training in conjunction with two other smoking cessation strategies.2 All subjects received a 15-20 minute smoking cessation counseling session and an 8-week supply of the nicotine patch and then were randomized into either the resistance training group or the control group. The resistance training group engaged in two, 60-minute whole body training sessions that consisted of 10 exercises for 12 weeks. The control group watched a brief health and wellness video twice a week for 12 weeks. After three months, 16% of the resistance training group had quit smoking compared to only 8% of the control group. And the effects appear to be lasting because three months later, 15% of the resistance training group remained cigarette-free compared to only 8% of the control group. Additionally, those who quit in the exercise group also decreased their body weight and body fat. The 8% that remained quit in the control group, however, had gained both body weight and body fat.

Adding exercise to smoking cessation efforts not only doubled the likelihood of success but also resulted in improved body composition! This study was the first to use resistance training with smoking cessation but several others have looked at the effects of aerobic training and have discovered similar results.3 Additional research is definitely needed to explore these outcomes further.

Why would exercise benefit smoking cessation efforts? Researchers believe that exercise helps to reduce cravings and minimize withdrawal symptoms which often lead many to abandon their efforts. Exercise also improves mood and, as shown in the above study, assists in weight loss—the opposite of which is typical when trying to kick the habit. With these and the many other health benefits of exercise, adding physical activity to any smoking cessation attempt is definitely worth considering -  especially in light of the fact that in the United States, tobacco use is responsible for about one in five deaths annually and on average, smokers die 13-14 years earlier than nonsmokers.4 Yes, nicotine dependence is a chronic condition and a hard habit to kick but it can be done. It may be surprising to learn that currently there are more former smokers than current smokers.What many don’t realize is that health benefits begin almost immediately after quitting:

  • Within 20 minutes of quitting—blood pressure and heart rate drop to normal
  • Within 8 hours of quitting—blood carbon monoxide levels drop and blood oxygen levels increase, both to normal levels
  • Within 24 hours of quitting—risk of sudden heart attack decreases
  • Within 48 hours of quitting—smell and taste begin to return to normal
And the more time that goes by without tobacco use, the more benefits and health improvements that exist. So consider adding exercise to your efforts to FINALLY kick the habit and for additional help, consider some these useful resources:

1-800-QUIT-NOW (

CDC’s How to Quit

Have clients or loved ones that you’d like to help adopt healthy behaviors? Learn more during CI’s upcoming Coaching Healthy Behaviors course.


1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette smoking among adults—United States, 2000. (2002). Mortality Weekly Report. 51(29): 642-45. 2Ciccolo, J.T., et al. (2011). Resistance training as an aid to standard smoking cessation treatment: a pilot study. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 13(8): 756-760. 3Williams, D.M., et al. (2010). Moderate intensity exercise as an adjunct to standard smoking cessation treatment for women: a pilot study. Psychol Addict Behav. 24(2): 349-354. 4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking—attributable mortality, years of potential life lost, and productivity losses—United States, 2000-2004. (2008). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 57(45): 1226-8. 5Fiore, M.C., Bailey, W.C., Cohen, S.J., Dorfman, S.F., Goldstein, M.G., Gritz, E.R., et al. Treating tobacco use and dependence: 2008 update—clinical practice guidelines. (2008). U.S. Department of Health Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.