Getting fit to help quit

Dr Harry Prapavessis and Stefanie De JesusWho: Dr Harry Prapavessis and Stefanie De Jesus, behavioural medicine researchers, Western University, London

A Society-funded study is evaluating whether a home-based exercise maintenance program, with nicotine replacement therapy and supervised exercise, is effective in helping women quit smoking and stay smoke-free.

Quitting smoking and staying smoke-free substantially reduces the risk of developing lung and many other cancers.


For women trying to quit smoking, the fear that they will gain weight once they stop smoking is one barrier to success. With Canadian Cancer Society funding, Dr Harry Prapavessis and his team at Western University have been leading a clinical trial to study whether exercise can help women stay smoke-free.


In an earlier study, Dr Prapavessis showed that a supervised exercise program, with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), helped women quit smoking, improve fitness and minimize weight gain. A common problem, however, is that after the organized exercise program ends, many stop exercising and resume smoking.


Dr Prapavessis is leading the first clinical trial to test whether a home-based exercise maintenance program is effective in helping women remain smoke-free. In the trial, 413 women who were trying to quit smoking – some of whom were recruited through the Society’s Smokers’ Helpline – followed a 14-week supervised exercise and NRT program; afterwards, half the group also received counselling to maintain regular exercise on their own.


Preliminary results show that at 14 weeks over 50 per cent of the women were smoke-free and improved their health, with one-year results expected later in 2014. “We hope that women who received additional training have lower smoking relapse levels, maintain their fitness levels and gain less weight than those who didn’t receive training,” says PhD candidate Stefanie De Jesus, noting that even 10 minutes of brisk walking a day can reduce cravings and nicotine withdrawal symptoms.


The benefits extend beyond their physical health. “Some women are so motivated to continue pursuing physical activity that they get involved in obstacle course races. Their self-esteem and confidence in tackling any goal increases dramatically,” says De Jesus.


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