Exercise Reduces the Addiction to Smoking

running while smoking

Research finds that a short, intense bout of exercise reduces the urge to smoke, cravings to smoke and withdrawal symptoms.

Can exercise help you quit smoking? According to one recent study the answer is yes. The study (Effect of brief exercise on urges to smoke in men and women smokers, 2018. Alicia Allen, et al.) was published in the journal of Addictive Behaviors. The researchers recruited 38 men and women who were heavy smokers, smoking at least 5 cigarettes per day, for the study. The participants cycled at their maximum VO2 capacity for 6-12 minutes. A questionnaire was completed before and 15 minutes after the cycling exercise to assess smoking addiction. There was a reduction in smoking addiction symptoms after the brief cycling exercise in all categories assessed on the questionnaire: withdrawal, cravings, total smoking urges, intention to smoke and anticipated relief from negative affect. There were no gender differences among groups. 

A mechanism for how smoking reduces smoking addiction has not been elucidated. However, it easy to postulate such a mechanism. Exercise produces a dopamine surge in the brain, producing what is popularly referred to as “runner’s high”. The biology of addiction similarly relies on dopamine surges. Dopamine surges in the brain in response to cigarettes, or other addictive substances such as alcohol or drugs. The addiction strengthens as the brain generates less of a dopamine surge in response to addictive substance. In other words, addiction is simply a yearning for that dopamine surge in the brain produced by the addictive substance. Exercise’s ability to produce that dopamine surge in the brain probably explains the results in the aforementioned study.

Although exercise can reduce addiction symptoms 15 minutes after the exercise session, this may not necessarily translate to hours after the exercise. As exercising every 15 minutes would be impractical, further trials need to be conducted to determine if the effects on smoking addiction have long-term implications. 

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