It showed that teenage boys who took part in a smoking cessation program and combined it with exercise were several times less likely to continue smoking than those who received only traditional anti-smoking advice. Exercise did not have a comparable effect on teenage girls; researchers aren’t sure why. But the research is among the first to show that an exercise plan for teenage smokers can help them kick two bad habits at once, smoking and inactivity, which often go hand in hand.
For young smokers, breaking the habit before adulthood can be particularly crucial. Studies show that starting as a teenager makes it much more difficult to quit later on. About 80 percent of adult smokers began their habit before turning 18. Yet every day, 3,500 teenagers light their first cigarette.
The researchers recruited 233 smokers ages 14 to 19 at West Virginia high schools, and randomly assigned each to one of three groups. Some students received a single smoking-cessation session. A second group went through a 10-week anti-smoking program called Not on Tobacco, or NOT. And those in the third group went through the NOT program and were given pedometers and counseling on starting an exercise plan, which they could then schedule on their own time.
After three months, the study found that only 5 percent of the students who got the single anti-smoking session had quit smoking. But almost twice as many who went through the 10-week program had quit. When exercise was added to the mix, the effect on boys was remarkable: 24 percent of male students in the exercise group quit smoking, while only about 8 percent in the 10-week program that did not encourage exercise had stopped. They were also more likely to have stayed away from cigarettes after six months as well. The teenage girls in the exercise group, though, were no more likely to have quit smoking than those who received only counseling on quitting smoking.