Researchers at the University of Exeter have found a new way to help kick the smoking habit - a quick stroll around the block. They examined the effects of a one mile walk on 15 smokers, who hadn't had a puff for 15 hours.
The study, published in the latest edition of Psychopharmacology, found that during walking, and for at least 20 minutes after, cravings for a cigarette were much lower than when the same person did nothing. The smokers found that their desire for a cigarette to relieve negative withdrawal symptoms and to feel good were both reduced.
Dr Adrian Taylor, from the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences, said: "This is the first time it's been shown that something as simple as a brisk walk can have such a dramatic and lasting effect on the desire for a cigarette.
It's unclear why, but certainly research with animals suggests that the need for addictive substances can be reduced by exercise. When you take exercise the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which acts on pleasure pathways almost like a reward. Cigarettes also trigger a sense of pleasure from feeling stimulated and relaxed, so it's possible exercise could substitute for the effects of smoking by providing the brain with a hit of the substance."
Dr Taylor and his PhD student Magdelena Katomeri are conducting further studies to determine just how long the effects may last, if reduced cravings mean a longer time to the next cigarette, and whether smokers will be less likely to light up in the face of triggers such as stress or a lit cigarette. Preliminary data suggest that a 15 minute walk may be effective for at least 2 hours, even when faced with smoking cues.