A lot of research on the ability of moderate exercise to curtail cigarette cravings has amounted to an apparent contradiction: it appears to be effective in short term, controlled laboratory studies, but ineffective in treatment studies.
The conclusion suggested in the outcomes of one study is that although exercise helps improve the mood of smokers as well as curb their cigarette cravings, this effect is temporary.
What the researchers discovered is that while there is no long-term benefit of exercise on cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms, there is an acute benefit which lessens over a period of a number of hours to a couple of days, which could be renewed with every session of exercise. One implication for these results is that exercise could be a helpful treatment strategy, although it has to be performed often enough and regularly enough given that the effects that it has dissipate after a while.
For the study, the researchers recruited 60 women smokers for 2 months of smoking cessation treatment. These individuals were all provided with counseling on quitting as well as nicotine patches. Fifty percent were allocated to the exercise group, where they walked briskly on a treadmill for 50 minutes 3 times weekly. The 30 women from the control group viewed 30 minute health and fitness videos 3 times each week.
Each group was questioned about their mood and cigarette cravings just before and after every session. They were also questioned again after they reached the next destination following each exercise or wellness session.
The researchers discovered that, in comparison to individuals in the control group, those that exercised were more likely to have improved mood as well as decreased cigarette cravings, but that these benefits disappeared by the time of the following exercise session. The improvements in affect and cigarette cravings are encouraging, but they were clearly not sustained even over a several days.