Exercise May Help Teens Kick Smoking Habits


Teenage smokers that are encouraged to both quit and exercise may boost their odds of truly managing the overcome their addiction, according to a recent study.

Teenage smokers that are encouraged to both quit and exercise may boost their odds of truly managing the overcome their addiction, according to a recent study.

Research among adults has suggested that exercise may help smokers quit, perhaps by easing withdrawal symptoms or taking the edge off cigarette cravings. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at the effects of adding exercise advice to a teen-focused smoking cessation program.

“Not on Tobacco” (NOT), the American Lung Association’s quit program geared toward high school students, helped conduct the study. NOT is available in public schools around the US, and studies have found that the average quite rate is approximately 21 percent.

The study was conducted in West Virginia, where smoking rates among teens are high and exercise rates are low. Lead researcher Kimberly Horn, of the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, said “we felt like (exercise) might be important for these kids, and that the effects of NOT could be boosted.”

When studying the question, Horn’s team randomly assigned 19 high schools to offer the standard cessation program, the program plus exercise advice or a “brief intervention” where teen smokers participated in one session with a program organizer. A total of 223 students took part in one of the three programs.

Students in the NOT program were offered 10 weekly small-group sessions that included a facilitator helped teens figure out the reasons why they began smoking along with finding ways of kicking their habit. The exercise-added version also gave advice to teens on exercise and a pedometer to keep track of their daily activity levels.

At the end of the six-month period, the study found the NOT-plus-exercise group had the highest self-reported quit rate of 31% as opposed to the 21% in the standard program. The brief-intervention group found that fewer than 16% had quit.

Yet, when Horn’s team analyzed their data, the added exercise seemed to only help boys; 37% of boys in the NOT program had quit by the six-month mark as opposed to a mere 18% in the standard program. Girls’ quit rates were similar in both groups with 26% in the NOT program and 23% in the standard program, respectively. When asked about the gender gap, Horn noted “in general, it’s known that girls’ exercise levels “plummet” in the teen years, whereas boys are more likely to stay active to some degree.”

It is not clear how changes in physical activity correlate with quitting success due to the study not actually measuring the students’ exercise levels. Future studies will focus on whether the program actually did boost activity levels, and whether the type of exercise mattes to quitting smoking.

The hope is that even after teens quit smoking, they will keep exercising and gain extra health benefits as well. Horn added, “It’s just a modest amount of encouragement (to exercise) from the facilitator. And we found that even that small ‘dose’ might have very important effects.”

Around the Web

Encouraging Exercise May Help Teens Quit Smoking [Reuters]

Study: Exercise Helps Teen Smokers Quit [USA Today]

Effects of Physical Activity on Teen Smoking Cessation [Proceedings from Pediatrics Magazine]

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