A recent study showed that among older women, exercise levels are a better predictor of longevity than smoking status. This isn’t to say that a daily walk makes smoking cigarettes any safer, of course…
However, this is one case where a good habit can actually help “cancel out” a bad habit, so to speak. Specifically, by making that one bad habit a little easier to kick.
That’s the takeaway of a laboratory study from researchers at St. George’s University of London. They examined the effects of exercise on nicotine-treated mice, who ran on exercise wheels for anywhere between two to 24 hours per day. Researchers found that, compared to the mice that were sedentary, even moderate intensity exercise was able to dramatically reduce withdrawal symptom severity.
They also discovered an increase in the activation of specific nicotine receptors in the brain with exercise. This might help to explain why physical activity was so beneficial against withdrawal — though as of yet, they’re still not certain as to the exact biological mechanisms at work.
Ultimately, though, the proof is in the pudding. And these results suggest that breaking a sweat could play a key protective role for anyone looking to quit smoking in the New Year.
Of course, this being an animal study, there’s no way to guarantee that workouts will have the same effect on humans trying to kick tobacco. I generally don’t put too much stock into research on mice for this very reason. But this is one of those rare exceptions where the science seems promising.
That’s because replacing a cigarette break with a brisk walk around the block certainly isn’t going to hurt anybody’s efforts to get healthier. Exercise should have a place on everyone’s resolution list, regardless of their smoking status. Whether it takes the edge off of nicotine withdrawal or not, you’re still reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes… not to mention a long list of other deadly diseases.
And if there’s even a chance it could help you or someone you love to quit smoking for good? Well, those could wind up being the most important 20 minutes of the day.
To your good health,
Fred Pescatore, M.D.
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