Good news if your New Year’s resolutions include both exercising more and quitting smoking – researchers have found that a brisk 10-minute walk could be the key to reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, as well as improving wellbeing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, with tobacco causing more than 7 million deaths worldwide per year. Whilst that’s a concerning statistic, quitting an addictive substance is no mean feat. With strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms such as poor sleep, difficulty concentrating, and irritability, fewer than one in 10 adult smokers successfully quit each year.
As a result, researchers from the University of Innsbruck have been looking into ways to reduce the unpleasant parts of quitting smoking, focusing on the potential impact of both indoor and outdoor exercise. "There are several studies on the effect of indoor exercise sessions on temporarily abstinent smokers, ours is the first to include outdoor activity," said first author Stefanie Schöttl in a statement.
The team randomly assigned 16 smokers into three groups and required them to remain smoke-free overnight. Then, the participants either undertook a 10-minute brisk walk outdoors, the same but on an indoor treadmill, or stayed seated for 10 minutes. They also had to report their cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and mood before, during, and after these interventions, as well as when they next had a cigarette.
Compared to those who stayed sitting down, the researchers found that short bouts of both indoor and outdoor exercise significantly reduced cravings and withdrawal symptoms and improved well-being. This, however, was during the session – there were no significant differences between the groups 20 minutes later.
"Another – albeit not significant – difference between indoor and outdoor exercise sessions is the time that passes before the next cigarette," said Schöttl, at 17 minutes for the indoor group and 26 minutes for the outdoor group. While this indicates a possibility that outdoor exercise could be more beneficial, fellow author Martin Kopp added that "This is a trend that still needs to be verified in future experiments," suggesting that changing the duration or intensity of the walks could help in this.
In the paper’s conclusion, the researchers also suggest that future studies should investigate which elements were acting to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms; was it the physical activity itself, being amongst nature, or maybe even both?
The study is published in Psychopharmacology.