If you’ve been working hard to stop smoking, you might feel like you don’t have the time or energy to add another good-for-you goal—like going to the gym—into your day. And, yes, you might feel like your willpower is stretched to the max already. But when you commit to a regular exercise routine, you can also help relieve many of the stressful side effects that come with quitting smoking.
“Exercise is a natural solution to a lot of concerns about giving up smoking—dealing with withdrawal symptoms, coping with stress, and avoiding weight gain,” explains clinical health psychologist Bess Marcus, Ph.D., of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of San Diego.
Sound good? Here’s how exercise may help ease some aspects of your journey to quit tobacco.
Exercise can help with bad moods
Exercise might not eliminate all of the unpleasant feelings associated with quitting smoking, but it can help. The endorphin-boosting effect of exercise can help improve your mood and soothe stressful feelings.
Exercise can help quash cravings
A quick bout of activity—even a five-minute walk—has been shown to be effective for combating cigarette cravings. Try hitting the gym, going for a walk, or even doing a few strength-training moves whenever you crave a cigarette.
Exercise may boost self-esteem
Some research suggests that physical activity may increase self-efficacy and self-esteem. While more research is needed, some studies suggest that exercise may help a quitter feel competent and in control, and help transform his or her identity from that of a smoker to that of a healthy person.
Exercise can help ease stress
Some forms of exercise, such as yoga, have been found to be particularly helpful in managing stress. Try a yoga class that focuses on breathing techniques. Yoga breath work can not only help with stress management; it also may feel like a comforting habit to a longtime smoker.
Exercise fights weight gain
The fear of putting on weight after quitting may be especially strong for midlife smokers who have noticed a slowing in metabolism, but starting or increasing physical activity can keep the extra pounds at bay. Working out may also help fight food cravings.
The direct link between exercise and smoking abstinence is unclear, but further research may pinpoint exactly how much—and how hard—you have to move. One thing is clear: whether you benefit from the distraction exercise provides, the feeling of doing something good for yourself, or even the creation of mood-boosting endorphins, exercise seriously boosts overall health—and that’s never a bad thing.
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