Sept 21 Encouraging teenage smokers not only to
quit, but to get physically active, may boost their odds of
truly managing to kick the habit, a study said.
Some research in adults has suggested that exercise may help
smokers quit, perhaps by easing withdrawal symptoms or taking
the edge off cigarette cravings. The study, reported in the
journal Pediatrics, looked at the effects of adding exercise
advice to a teen-focused smoking cessation program.
"Not on Tobacco" (NOT) is the American Lung Association's
quit program geared specifically for high school students. It's
available in public schools across the United States, and
studies have found that the average quit rate is about 21
In the state of West Virginia, where the study was done,
smoking rates are high, while exercise rates are low, said lead
researcher Kimberly Horn, of the West Virginia University School
of Medicine in Morgantown.
"We felt like (exercise) might be important for these kids,
and that the effects of NOT could be boosted," Horn told Reuters
To study the question, Horn's team randomly assigned 19 high
schools to offer either the standard cessation program, the
program plus exercise advice or a "brief intervention" in which
teen smokers had one session with a program facilitator.
In all, 233 students took part in one of the three programs.
The standard NOT program offers 10 weekly small-group
sessions, in which a facilitator helps teens figure out why they
smoke and find ways to kick the habit. Teens in the
exercise-added version also got advice on exercise, and a
pedometer, to keep track of their daily activity levels.
After six months, the study found, the NOT-plus-exercise
group had the highest self-reported quit rate, at 31 percent.
That compared with 21 percent in the standard program and just
under 16 percent in the brief-intervention group.
When Horn's team looked more closely at the data, the added
exercise seemed to help only boys.
Among boys in that version of the program, 37 percent had
quit by the six-month mark, versus only about 18 percent in the
standard program. Girls' quit rates, however, were similar in
both groups -- at 26 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
The reasons for the gender gap were not clear, Horn said.
"We're a little puzzled by it," she added.
In general, it's known that girls' exercise levels "plummet"
in the teen years, whereas boys are more likely to stay active
to some degree, Horn said.
The study did not actually measure the students' exercise
levels, so it's not clear how changes in physical activity
correlate with quitting success. Future studies will look at
whether the program really did boost activity levels, and
whether the type of exercise matters to quitting smoking.
What's encouraging, Horn said, is that the exercise portion
is easy to add to an existing NOT program. The hope is that even
after they quit smoking, the teens will keep exercising and gain
those extra health benefits as well.
"It's just a modest amount of encouragement (to exercise)
from the facilitator. And we found that even that small 'dose'
might have very important effects."
(Reporting from New York by Amy Norton at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)