Regular Exercise Found To Help In Quitting Cigarette Smoking

There is modest evidence that exercise-aided smoking cessation programs are more effective than traditional smoking cessation programs at improving long-term quit rates (i.e., 12 months). The role of exercise on smoking behavior such as the number of cigarettes smoked, time to the first cigarette, and how cigarettes are smoked is less known.

Studies have reliably shown that those receiving exercise decrease the number of cigarettes smoked more than their control counterparts during the pre-quit period of a smoking cessation program. This suggests that exercise and smoking are incompatible behaviors. It further suggests that exercise may be “gateway behavior” to cessation.

Altering smoking behavior can be seen through changing the number of cigarettes smoked per day and/or changing how the cigarette is smoked (e.g., how strong a puff one takes). The former behavior can be evaluated through self-report cigarette consumption and from exhaled carbon monoxide readings whereas the latter behavior can be assessed through smoking topography devices which measures such things as puff count and duration. What remains unknown is whether smoking topography compensation occurs (i.e., smoke cigarettes more aggressively) in light of cigarette reduction during the pre-quit period of an exercise-aided smoking cessation program. There also is a dearth of evidence on whether exercise can influence the subjective sensations experienced when smoking during the pre-quit period. These reinforcing sensory experiences include smoking satisfaction and enjoyment.

By addressing cigarette consumption, smoking topography and smoking sensations in concert, scientists, and healthcare professionals will gain a deeper understanding into a smokers’ profile as they approach their quit date. Specifically, if sensations and topography related to smoking strengths before making a quit attempt, even with a decline in the number of cigarettes smoked, achieving cessation will likely be more challenging. Conversely, if diminished or no change in topography and sensory experiences follow cigarette reduction, smokers may be better positioned to achieve cessation. With this knowledge, interventions can be tailored to maximize the success of quit attempts.

Using a subsample (n=236; mean age = 43; mean cigarettes per day = 17) from a large parent trial called “Getting Physical on Cigarettes” (Prapavessis et al., 2016) the purpose of this secondary analysis study was to examine the temporal changes of cigarette consumption, smoking topography, and cigarette-related sensations during the pre-quit period of a 14 week exercise-aided nicotine replacement therapy transdermal patch smoking cessation program. The targeted quit date was set for the beginning of week 4 and data were collected prior to the start (i.e., baseline) and during the first three weeks of the exercise intervention.


As expected we found cigarette consumption decreased during the exercise pre-quit period. We also found smoking satisfaction and reward decreased. Most of the smoking topography variable did not change. Put another way, smokers reduced how much they smoked without being told to do so and did not enjoy those cigarettes more or smoke them in a different way.

Take-home message

This study demonstrates that exercise during the pre-quit period of a smoking cessation program facilitates both behavioral and sensory harm reduction with cigarettes. In addition, the variation detected between cigarette consumption and smoking topography does not support compensatory behavior. In short, these findings suggest that female smokers who take up exercise prior to quitting have an “ideal pre-quit profile” to attain long-term cessation.

These findings are described in the article entitled Smoking behaviour and sensations during the pre-quit period of an exercise-aided smoking cessation intervention, recently published in the journal Addictive Behaviors. This work was conducted by Stefanie De Jesus and Harry Prapavessis from Western University. 


  • De Jesus, S., & Prapavessis, H. (2018). Smoking behaviour and sensations during the pre-quit period of an exercise-aided smoking cessation intervention. Addictive Behaviors, 81, 143-149. DOI. 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.01.035
  • Prapavessis, H., De Jesus, S., Fitzgeorge, L., Faulkner, G., Maddison, R., & Batten, S (2016). Exercise to enhance smoking cessation: The Getting Physical on Cigarettes randomized control trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 50, 358-369doi 10.1007/s12160-015-9761-