Look around at the start or finish of a 5K, 10K, or marathon race. It will be very difficult to find any runners smoking. Serious runners who also smoke are extremely rare. However, talking to runners reveals that there are plenty of serious runners who are former smokers.
From this anecdotal evidence it seems likely that running or other vigorous exercise can help people successfully quit smoking. There is also solid scientific evidence that exercise helps people quit smoking.
Evidence that Exercise Helps Smoking Cessation Programs
In 1999, a team led by B.H. Marcus published an article in Archives of Internal Medicine (v. 159, p. 1229) that studied the effects of exercise on efforts to quit smoking. This controlled study of 281 women compared the success of a smoking cessation program that included a vigorous exercise component to a control smoking cessation program that did not include exercise.
They found that adding an exercise component to a smoking cessation program helped women quit smoking. As a bonus, the exercise helped prevent the weight gain that often happens when people quit smoking. Exercise provides a healthy alternative to smoking.
To successfully quit smoking, start running.
Starting a Running Program
Sedentary people wanting to start a running program should start slowly and consult their physicians about any medical concerns. Do not expect to run a fast mile, or longer, the first day. Do not even try to run the first day.
Tips for starting a walking or running program include:
- Wear comfortable shoes and start walking.
- Beginners should only walk as far as is comfortable the first day. Establish a baseline.
- Continue daily walking, with at least one rest day each week.
- Walk or run at a pace that allows carrying on a conversation.
- Gradually increase the walking distance, but do not increase by more than 10% a week.
- When walking becomes easy, start running easily for short distances.
- Gradually increase the running distance, but not by more than 10% a week.
- Be patient. It takes time for a sedentary person to get back into shape.
- Set running goals.
A good way to keep motivated in a running program is to set running goals. These goals should be achievable but not too easy. Set a series of goals that build on previous goals.
A good initial goal might be to make it around the block. Then try to run a mile. As running ability increases, beginning runners can gradually set higher goals to run longer distances.
People who either like competition or who like running in groups can set goals of running in local races. Start with a 5K (3.1 miles) race, then work up to a 10K (6.2 miles) race or a longer race. Don’t worry about being too slow. There are very fast elite runners, but there are many more runners who just want to have fun and complete the distance.