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Smoking, Exercise Don't Mix

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We know that smoking is incompatible with a physically active life. But with another Great American Smokeout around the corner (it's Thursday), it may help those who want to quit smoking to know that exercising can be a useful tool.

My husband, Kevin, was a smoker many years ago. He called himself a poster child for the tobacco companies. He started with eating candy cigarettes, when he was 11 years old, thinking that pretending to smoke was a cool thing to do. At 12, he turned to the real thing.

It was during a heavy snowstorm in Bloomfield, N.J., when he realized that smoking was detrimental to his health and lifestyle. As he tried to help someone push a car stuck in snow in a parking lot, he found himself out of breath. At the time, he was 20 years old. He said that he knew smoking was the reason for the breathlessness. And for smoking to do that to him, he said, was ridiculous. That incident was among the factors that motivated him to quit. And stop he did, within a day of that snowstorm incident. Six months after abruptly quitting smoking, he started running. Eventually, he would run five miles every day, clocking a 7-minute or 8-minute-mile pace.

Exercising made it impossible for him to return to smoking. After running, he moved on to cycling and skiing, which became his two favorite sports.

Several studies have been conducted on the role of exercise in quitting smoking, but there hasn't been a large study of men and women that shows that beginning an exercise program definitely leads to smoking cessation.

One of the promising studies appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine, according to an American Cancer Society report. The study included 281 sedentary female smokers ages 18 to 65. One group attended a 12-week smoking-cessation program and a wellness program three times a week. The second group attended the same 12-week smoking-cessation program and a supervised vigorous exercise program three times a week. The sessions included 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity. The second group started the exercise program at a comfortable rate, then increased to an intensity equivalent to jogging. The women who exercised vigorously while trying to quit smoking were twice as likely to remain smoke-free and gained about half the weight of those who did not exercise.

Here is how exercise might potentially help, according to smoking-cessation advocates: It may distract you from the urge to smoke. Sometimes, those who quit smoking start eating more, so exercising can help control the potential weight gain. Some forms of mind-body exercise, such as yoga, can help with teaching your body how to breathe better. Exercise leads to chemical changes in the body that result in alertness as well as relaxation. And exercising can give you a feeling of empowerment, or control over your life.

If you're thinking about turning away from smoking and turning toward exercise, take small, gradual steps. First, reacquaint your body with the ability to breathe without being hindered by smoke. Choose an easy activity that you like. Enlist a friend to become your workout partner. Sign up for a health-club membership if that will help you keep the commitment to quit. Go for a brisk walk or drink water when you feel the urge to smoke. For more information on quitting, go to


(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to


(c) 2003, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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