Don’t just kick the habit—exercise it away. Smokers find it easier to quit with the help of an exercise program. Here’s how and why …
Recent studies indicate that smoking appears less attractive after an exercise session. Perhaps it’s all the endorphins rushing through your system. Typically after exercise, we feel relaxed, satisfied, and overall good. These are the same emotions many crave when reaching for a cigarette. The big difference: After an exercise session, you have the added benefit of feeling and being healthy.
A study reported from England’s University of Exeter shows exercise can minimize the power of cigarettes and smoking-related images to grab smokers’ attention. The study involved intervals of cigarette-related images and exercise. Eye-tracking technology proved the reaction to smoking cues was lessened in groups who participated in exercise before viewing. This is significant. Many smokers light up by the power of visual suggestion, or relapse into smoking after witnessing cigarette-related scenes (real or via media). A stint of exercise weakens the attraction for smokers and those trying to quit.
Multiple studies show light to moderate physical activity for five to 15 minutes can help reduce cravings and responses to smoking prompts. Extended, higher intensity workouts may have a greater effect, but that is not yet proven.
“If a drug revealed the same effects [as exercise], it would be immediately marketed as a valuable aid to help people quit smoking or cut down,” remarks Adrian Taylor, PhD, MSc, of the School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter. Yet another situation for which exercise is the ideal “prescription.” (See “Exercise & Lift the Weight of Depression” and “Exercise for Stress Relief” at www.fitnessandwellnessnews.com).
Abstain with Minimum (Weight) Gain
Weight gain. A dreaded side-effect common to smoking cessation. Cigarette smoking itself burns calories, and nicotine acts as an appetite suppressor. Combined with replacing cigarettes with snacks (as many often do), gaining five to 10 pounds can be expected. These pounds can be easily shed, especially if exercise is already part of your cessation program. However, excessive weight gain can undermine overall confidence in the quest for a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, along with a nutritious diet and healthy snacks, are essential in combating the potential pounds.
Half-hour of exercise five days a week helps avoid weight gain and smoking relapses. Even smaller amounts of physical activity, including brisk walks, help prevent weight gain and cigarette cravings.
Once you’ve quit, it’s easier to start exercising than give up sweets, in part because smoking is an oral habit. There is a literal void left by the cigarettes, which food fills. Simultaneously, it acts as a comfort source during the withdrawal period. Studies have established exercise as an aid to smoking cessation, and also as the perfect solution to counteract associated weight gain.
Remember to drink plenty of water. It acts as a craving buster. (This is true in the case of any snack attack.) It also flushes out residual toxins left in your body from the nicotine.
Exercise Start-Up for Quitters
As for the avid exerciser who lights up, imagine the places you could take your workout with a nicotine-free body. Be sure your current workouts include aspects of this routine. Although a veteran at the Center, you still carry extra baggage in the form of cigarettes and their health hazards.
Flexibility: Spend time stretching at the beginning and end of each exercise session. Stretch slowly and work your way deeper. Fast, jerky stretches can damage muscles and delay start-up, which can delay successfully quitting cigarettes.
Consider yoga, which flexes your body while strengthening your resolve to accomplish a smoke-free lifestyle. Incorporate positive mantras that encourage all your healthy endeavors. Notice how much deeper your breathing becomes once you give up the smokes.
Cardio-ability: Heart-revving activity builds the heart muscle and lungs, areas that are directly affected by smoking. You’ll be working toward building the same areas your previous habit was damaging—a great motivator in itself. Strengthening your lung capacity can help delay the onset or severity of illnesses common among smokers, such as COPD, emphysema, and asthma.
Check the Group Fitness schedule and speak with a personal trainer about the best classes and equipment to increase cardio functioning.
Strengthening: Simultaneously develop your physical strength along with the strength to resist cigarettes. With each rep, visualize being one step closer to your wellness goals. Feel the healthy burn in your muscles, not in your chest where nicotine lingers. Remember to breathe properly during weightlifting. Experience each aspect of improvement—stronger muscles, mind, and lungs. Kick cigarette butt!
Keep dumbbells handy for a quick session when you’d normally break for a cigarette. Your body deserves healthy breaks throughout the day. Take opportunities to engage in a healthy alternative to reinforce your new mindset.
When in Rome … When at the Center …
Spend time in healthy environments. Being at the Center can be its own inspiration. Surround yourself with others striving for the healthiest life. Members are working to accomplish similar goals, oriented toward fitness and wellness.
You’re likely to find others trying to quit smoking, as well. Form a support group to help with accountability. Strive to be each other’s personal prevention patch. Learn their triggers and strengths. Having such a network available, especially during times of weakness, can be the difference between lighting up and moving ahead. Replace time spent with smoking buddies with a workout pal at the Center.
Avoid locales that exacerbate your psychological withdrawal from cigarettes. Often, psychological withdrawal is the catch. It can’t be satisfied through smoking cessation treatments like the nicotine patch, gum, and other medication. Keep occupied and stimulated by healthy means during a boring afternoon or a post-dinner chat. (Splurge for dessert!)
While Quitting, Keep This in Mind
Smokers who exercise do reduce their risk of maladies triggered by cigarettes. Regardless, a good workout is not a free pass to a fresh pack. Quite the contrary. Acknowledge the benefits your body could gain with a nicotine-free lifestyle, and be inspired. Without cigarettes, you can take your workout to the next level quicker and easier. Surpass the smoke-filled haze that you’ve been sweating away in.
Change your lifestyle completely. Don’t replace one unhealthy addiction with another. Indulge in a nice healthy drag of exercise. You won’t only be quitting an unhealthy habit, you’ll be starting a healthy one.
“Health Benefits for Smokers that Exercise,” by Kimberly Bunch at www.associatedcontent.com.
“How to Minimize Weight Gain When You Quit Smoking,” by Terry Martin at www.about.com.
“Quit Smoking without Gaining Weight: How Exercise Can Help,” by Paige Waehner at www.about.com.
“Smoking Cessation and Exercise,” at www.essortment.com.
“Why Do People Gain Weight When They Quit Smoking?” by Terry Martin at www.about.com.
Smoking cigarette: www.flickr.com/photos/tamakisono/4041783007/