By: John Ratey, M.D., Exercise Revolution
The holiday season is upon us and that means stress. If you find yourself constantly fighting the urge to smoke, well, get moving. Fortunately, we have new research from the U.K. that indicates exercise will help you get through those nicotine cravings.
It’s the cravings that get you, the nervous jitters and the empty hands that come with quitting smoking. I’ve spoken many times on how the power of exercise can help control the mind. And is there any other instance where control is more needed than when we are fighting an addiction like cigarettes?
Dr. Adrian Taylor of University of Exeter, the group leader of a study that focused on integrating physical activity into a smoking cessation program as part of their public U.K. Stop Smoking Services. In the study, the participants were asked to rate their need for cigarettes after different types of physical activity. Among those who had physical exertion, there were significant reductions in their desire to smoke. According to Dr. Taylor, “If we found the same effects in a drug, it would immediately be sold as an aid to help people quit smoking.”
The principle is that exercise can stimulate production of the mood-enhancing hormone dopamine, which can, in turn, reduce smokers’ dependence on nicotine. Dopamine works by replacing or satisfying the need for nicotine. When you suddenly quit smoking, you turn off the dopamine spigot and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis gets thrown out of balance. While the intense unpleasantness of withdrawals lasts for only a few days, your system remains sensitive for much longer, leading to the high rate of relapse amongst people trying to quit smoking. Exercise also lowers anxiety, stress and tension levels – the physical triggers that make a person grouchy when they’re trying to quit. While the relapse rate is still high, know that you have a healthy, natural alternative on your side.
When you get moving, you can leave those cravings behind!
John Ratey, M.D. is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a clinical psychiatrist in Cambridge, Mass. He has been widely published on the subjects of aggression, autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other issues in neuropsychiatry.