Strength training increases success of attempts to quit smoking

People who stop smoking are more often successful if they start strength training at the same time. Researchers at Brown University in the US think that strength training also prevents the increase in body fat that ex-smokers often face.

There are a few studies that suggest that physical exercise makes giving up smoking easier. The withdrawal symptoms, the craving, low moods and weight gain are all less if ex-smokers exercise.

So you’d expect that the form of exercise that demands the most of the body – strength training – is even more useful for ex-smokers than other forms of exercise. But until recently no scientific research on the matter had been done.

Joseph Ciccolo of Alpert Medical School at Brown University did a study, a small one, and published it in Nicotine & Tobacco Research. It’s a pilot study. Ciccolo got 25 smokers aged between 18 and 65 to stop, gave them counselling and nicotine patches – and got half of them to do strength training twice a week.

Each session consisted of a full body workout of 10 exercises. Initially the subjects did just one set of 10 reps of each exercise, but increased this to two sets after three weeks. The subjects increased the amount of weight they lifted when they noticed that they could perform more than 10 reps per set.

At the end of the three months the strength training stopped, but Ciccolo followed the subjects for another three months. He discovered that the strength training doubled the chance of staying off smoking.

After six months 16 percent of the subjects who had done strength training had still not touched a cigarette. In the control group the figure was half that.


The strength training also prevented the subjects from putting on weight. At the end of the three months the ex-smokers had actually lost half a kg of fat mass.


“Cigarette smoking kills more than a thousand Americans every day, and while the large majority of smokers want to quit, less than five percent are able to do it without help”, says Ciccolo in a press release. [] “We need any new tools that can help smokers successfully quit and it appears resistance training could potentially be an effective strategy.”

“Adequately powered trials of resistance training for smoking cessation, including comparisons to other types of physical activity (e.g. aerobic exercise) and cost-effectiveness analyses are now required”, writes Ciccolo in his article.

The study was funded by the American National Cancer Institute.

Resistance training as an aid to standard smoking cessation treatment: a pilot study.



Research indicates that exercise may be helpful for smoking cessation; however, the majority of studies have focused only on women and only on aerobic exercise. This pilot study explored the use of resistance training (RT) (i.e., weight lifting) as an adjunctive strategy for quitting smoking for both men and women.


A sample of 25 smokers received a brief smoking cessation counseling session and the nicotine patch prior to being randomized into a 12-week RT or contact control (CC) group. Assessments were conducted at baseline, 3-month, and at a 6-month follow-up.


Participants (52% female) averaged 36.5 years (SD = 12.0) of age and 19.1 years (SD = 12.0) of smoking. At the 3-month assessment, objectively verified 7-day point prevalence abstinence (PPA) rates were 46% for the RT group and 17% for CC; prolonged abstinence rates were 16% and 8%, respectively. At the 6-month assessment, objectively verified 7-day PPA rates were 38% for the RT group and 17% for CC; prolonged abstinence rates were 15% and 8%, respectively. Mean body weight decreased 0.6 kg (SD = 1.7) in the RT group and increased 0.6 kg (SD = 2.8) in the CC group. Mean body fat decreased 0.5% (SD = 1.8) in the RT group and increased 0.6% (SD = 0.7) in the CC.


This is the first study reporting on the use of a RT program as an aid to smoking cessation treatment. The findings suggest that such a program is feasible as an adjunctive treatment for smoking cessation. An adequately powered trial is warranted.

PMID: 21504883 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] PMCID: PMC3150692