Physical Activity Could Cure Teen Smoking 

A teenage smoker.




A West Virginia program that promotes physical activity and lends advice to help teens quit smoking is found to increase daily exercise and decrease daily cigarette use.







A health update appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlights physical activity's role in helping West Virginia high school teens quit smoking (Understanding Physical Activity Outcomes as a Function of Teen Smoking Cessation, 2013. Horn K, et al.).

The study used 19 different West Virginia high schools for the study. Participants in the study were 14-19 years of age, had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days, and were actively seeking to quit smoking. There were a total of 233 participants in three different groups. The groups are as follows. Brief intervention involved a trained facilitator who spent 10-15 minutes giving cigarette quitting advice at the start of the study. No other intervention was given to the Brief intervention group. The second group participated in N.O.T, short for Not-On-Tobacco, a ten week teen smoking cessation program. The N.O.T+FIT group was enrolled in the ten week N.O.T program and, in addition, received five minutes of physical activity motivation and advice with every N.O.T. session. The N.O.T.+FIT group was given a pedometer and physical activity log to help them reach their fitness goals.

Interestingly, every group, regardless of intervention, increased their days of physical exercise 3 months after baseline, or about two weeks after N.O.T. and N.O.T.+F.I.T programs concluded. The group with the greatest mean increase in physical activity was the N.O.T.+FIT group. However, the changes between groups was not statistically significant. The graph below shows the respective changes in daily exercise for teens enrolled in each group. 

Physical activity change by group 3 months post-baseline. Note: Values are means and (standard deviations).  N.O.T is Not-On-Tobacco, a teen smoking cessation program.  FIT is fitness intervention.  N=233.

Those who were in the N.O.T.+FIT group were the most likely to reduce cigarettes smoked on a daily basis. Interestingly, those individuals in the N.O.T.+FIT group who increased the number of days per week where at least 20 minutes of exercise was completed were the most likely to reduce the daily amount of cigarettes smoked. While other studies have shown small or little effect of physical activity on cigarette smoking, this is the first to combine physical activity with an intervention program. None of the groups had a significant change in BMI.

Perhaps a joint physical activity and smoking cessation program can cure two epidemics with one treatment. Adolescent obesity and smoking are two major health challenges facing American adolescents. Increasing physical activity in adolescents can help youth lose weight and quit smoking.

The aforementioned study did not use physical education as their fitness intervention. However, it is likely that physical education would have parallel effect to the FIT program utilized in this study. With physical education programs being cut across the country, this study underlines the consequences that removing physical education can have on the health and well-being of America's youth. Fighting adolescent obesity and smoking should be a priority for school districts because a student's health impacts more than just academic achievement.

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