Can Exercise Help You Quit Smoking?

According to the National Insitute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there's no better example of the deadly power of addiction than nicotine. Unlike other addictive substances, nicotine might not give an instant high — but multiple puffs of one cigarette stick are enough to stimulate the release of dopamine, per the NIDA. Cleveland Clinic describes dopamine as a "feel good" hormone that offers a sense of pleasure. Nicotine's dopamine-led impact on the brain makes smoking addiction harder to break as dopamine trains the brain to repeat the addictive behavior, as the NIDA explains.

Smoking is an issue for nearly 23 million U.S. adults, per the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). According to the National Institutes of Health, some cigarette smokers also use other illicit drugs, making it harder to kick the habit. A 2012 study published in the journal Addiction estimates that 71% of illicit drug users smoke cigarettes at least once monthly.

Smoking lowers your quality of life, triggering various negative health conditions, per the FDA. Unfortunately, quitting smoking doesn't come easy. Fewer than 1 in 10 people per year manage to quit smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite the negative effects, it's not all doom and gloom. Engaging in physical exercise might offer more positive results when attempting to quit smoking. However, it's important to consult with your doctor beforehand.

How exercise helps you quit smoking

As mentioned at the start, smoking addiction is characterized by the brain's dependency on nicotine, which triggers the feel good substance in the brain known as dopamine. When you stop smoking, you might experience withdrawal symptoms caused by your brain not having its constant supply of nicotine (via CDC). Drug withdrawals are physiological responses that cause various symptoms after suddenly quitting a substance, per the American Addiction Centers. The responses may be physical, mental, and emotional and might include anxiety, seizures, confusion, and insomnia.

Regular exercise might help relieve some of these withdrawal symptoms and cravings (via Medical News Today). According to a 2019 study published on InformedHealth.org, your body and its internal organs need the right amount of oxygen to thrive and support other essential functions like metabolism. Exercise helps the body efficiently transport oxygen into the bloodstream, per the American Lung Association.

Smoking does the opposite of exercising regarding the body's oxygen management. According to Cleveland Clinic, when you inhale tobacco smoke, your heart, lungs, and muscles receive less oxygen, putting these organs at risk, per National Heart, Lung, and Blood Insitute. When concerning physical fitness, some adverse effects of smoking include less endurance, poorer performance, and increased rates of injury and complications, as stated by the Cleveland Clinic. People who smoke also reach exhaustion levels faster than non-smokers.

How often should you exercise?

According to Medical News Today, mice engaging in 2 hours of exercise a day enjoyed the same reduction in withdrawal symptoms as those exercising 24 hours a day. While intensity isn't the cheat code for managing withdrawal symptoms of smoking, it helps to engage in the right type of physical activity to help you kick the habit. Smokefree.gov advises engaging in aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, jogging, running, and cycling. Ultimately, choosing an option you're most interested in is crucial to keep to it for the long haul. It's also important to engage your doctor in your exercise plans to prevent unwanted side effects or injuries.

To keep up with your exercise schedule, you might also benefit from planning fitness activities with your family and changing your routines often, per Smokefree.gov. The source also advises building physical activities into your daily routine, like substituting the stairs for the lift, to help you keep up with your daily exercise requirements.