Exercise is for Quitters

With the summer 2012 Olympics just around the corner, you may feel inspired to get out and cycle, swim, row, or play a sport.  The good news is that exercise is not only for athletes, but for quitters as well!

A recent, small study from the University of Exeter showed that moderate, physical exercise can help reduce cigarette cravings.   Researchers believe this may be due to the fact that exercise releases chemicals in the brain, called endorphins, which improve mood and hence reduce a smoker’s perceived need for a cigarette.  But the benefits of exercising when quitting go beyond brain chemistry.

Exercise will not only help you feel better, but it might also give you longer and better quality of sleep at night, help you reduce stress, and perhaps even influence healthier eating habits and food choices.  Specific benefits for ex-smokers may mean that exercise counter some of the side effects of quitting like insomnia, fatigue, and weight gain.  Best of all, exercise provides time to yourself; something many ex-smokers say they miss when quitting smoking.

Previous literature assumed that focusing on one behavior change at a time was best.  We now know that to be untrue.  In fact, ex-smokers who address weight management (through diet and/or exercise) while quitting smoking are more likely to quit successfully.   Weight gain and stress are two of the biggest triggers ex-smokers often contribute to relapse.  Hence adopting other healthy habits--healthy eating, exercise and stress management techniques--in addition to quitting smoking, make good sense.

What’s the best exercise to do when quitting smoking? The one you enjoy and will do consistently and regularly! 

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to try a sport or a new class (spin, yoga, or Zumba).  Get outside and go for a walk, take a hike, or paddle in a canoe or kayak.   If weather is a deterrent, join a gym or a group of mall walkers.  If you have pain and/or mobility issues, look into home videos or chair exercises.

If you are new to exercise, start with a small, attainable goal.  Initially you may start with ten minutes of exercise one or two days a week.  Over time you will build muscle strength and stamina and will eventually be able to increase duration and frequency of exercise. Don’t forget to bring water and warm up properly before engaging in any type of physical activity.  Also, finding a buddy who can work out with you can help you stay motivated and accountable!  Last, always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Ultimately, you may not win a gold medal, but you can definitely quit and still be a winner.