Reduce Cigarette Cravings with Acute Exercise

Woman smoking

Catherine O’Brien

It is no secret that smoking is a major health hazard that significantly increases risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and other health problems. That said, 20% of adult men and 16% of adult women smoke (American Heart Association, 2015). It is possible that, the sustaining prevalence of smokers is due, not to a lack of desire to quit but rather, to an inability to curb cigarette cravings. There are numerous pharmacological and therapeutic techniques used to promote smoking cessation and recent research suggests that acute exercise should also be added to the list of possible treatments.

An acute bout of exercise can effectively attenuate cigarette cravings. In three separate studies, cravings were significantly decreased following an acute bout of exercise (Van Rensburg & Taylor, 2008; Allen, Abdelwahab, et al. 2018; De Jesus & Prapavessis, 2018). Participants in these studies were regular smokers who smoked, on average, more than 10 cigarettes per day. Prior to participation in the study, they were instructed to abstain from smoking for a determined number of hours (see details below). Participants then engaged in an acute bout of exercise for less than 20 minutes. The studies utilized exercise interventions with varying intensities ranging from low intensity to high intensity. In each of the three studies, participants reported significantly reduced cigarette cravings following the exercise intervention.

Related Article: Sitting Disease – The New Smoking

Research done by Van Rensburg et al. (2008) utilized a walking intervention and while smoking cravings reduced, they reported no change in cognitive functioning. They posit that, perhaps an increase in intensity of exercise would contribute to greater cognitive gains. Allen et al. (2018) found that both men and women experienced decreased cravings to smoke but that only women reported a reduction in the degree to which they expected the cigarettes to improve their negative affect after the exercise (Allen et al., 2018). Research done by DeJesus & Prapavessis (2018) showed that the acute bout of exercise was effective in reducing cravings but that this reduction was not coupled with a reduction in cortisol levels. They suggest that a more rigorous intervention may be needed in order to produce significant changes in cortisol.

The Takeaway:

  1. If you are trying to quit smoking and need help resisting cravings, exercise may be a good quitting partner
  2. While the results were promising for low, moderate, and high intensity, when doing short workouts, higher intensity is ideal. Try jumping rope or sprinting in intervals on the treadmill or cycle ergometer.

*Always consult your physician before beginning a new exercise routine.

Related Article: It’s Not Too Late To Become A Runner

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Allen, A.M., Abdelwahab, N.M., Carlson, S., Bosch, T.A., Eberly, L.E., and Okuyemi, K. (2018). Effect of brief exercise on urges to smoke in men and women smokers. Addictive Behaviors, 77, 34-37.

De Jesus, S. and Prapavessis, H. (2018). Affect and cortisol mechanisms through which acute exercise attenuates cigarette cravings during a temporary quit attempt. Addictive Behaviors, 80, 82-88.

Van Rensburg, K.J. and Taylor, A.H. (2008). The effects of acute exercise on cognitive functioning and cigarette cravings during temporary abstinence from smoking. Human Pharmacology Clin Exp, 23, 193-199.

The American Heart Association (2015). Smoking: Do you really know the risks? Retrieved from on April 10, 2018.

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