Is Exercise Helpful for Smoking Cessation?


A new study recently published in the journal Addiction1 has proposed that a community exercise program may significantly help prolong abstinence in individuals who quit smoking.

Smoking – and nicotine addiction – is the most prevalent addiction in the world. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control says that around 13% of the adult population in the US smokes, and that it accounts for 1 of every 5 preventable deaths.2 While most people who currently smoke state that they would like to quit, only around 7% do so successfully – so better interventions are clearly needed.

This recent study sought to use exercise as a means for controlling stress in the hopes that this would create a better emotional and physiological environment to support smoking cessation. The study included 150 participants divided into two groups, all of whom were given Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and nicotine replacement. For exercise, one group was placed in a high-intensity program (based on target heart rate) and the other in a low intensity program. While both groups reported lower anxiety, the high intensity group was able to maintain abstinence and twice the rate of the low intensity group. 

The fact that both groups experienced lower stress and anxiety, but the high intensity group was much more likely to meet the study endpoint for abstinence, suggests that there may be a mechanism beyond the impact of exercise on anxiety. More research will be needed to better understand this effect, however given all the known benefits of exercise for so many areas of health, it is certainly worth considering an exercise program as part of any smoking cessation plan.




  1. Smits JAJ, Zvolensky MJ, Rosenfield D, et al. Community-based smoking cessation treatment for adults with high anxiety sensitivity: a randomized clinical trial. Addict Abingdon Engl. 2021;116(11):3188-3197. doi:10.1111/add.15586
  2. CDC. Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published March 16, 2022. Accessed March 30, 2022.