October 2, 2017

Running Away from Smoking

A Canadian program combines running and social support to help people quit. The results are impressive.

Joining a running group can help people quit smoking. The combination of exercise and social support can sometimes work where other approaches fail, a Canadian study has found.

Quitting is a lot easier when you don't have to do it alone.

Run to Quit is a 10-week program that combines weekly sessions on running instruction and strategies for quitting smoking with a five-kilometer run at the study's end. Those who are out of shape can start out by walking and gradually work their way up to running.

People in the program also had access to one-on-one phone counseling through Canada's provincial quit smoking lines. In the United States, smokers trying to quit can contact their state's quitline by dialing 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

People who feel that running is too challenging will be able to choose a walk to quit option, which includes a five-kilometer walk during week 10.

In the final week, 37 of the original 168 smokers (22 percent) had their claims of quitting verified by carbon monoxide analysis. Of the people who could be reached six months later, over 19 percent reported that they were still not smoking; 20.8 percent reported they were still running regularly — on average three times a week, though both results were unverified.

It may not seem like much, but this is actually a pretty good quit rate. A study of a personalized text-messaging program to help people quit doubled smokers' quit rate to a little over 11 percent, though the rate in that study was biochemically verified at six months.

As with most quit smoking programs, there were plenty of dropouts. Only 73 people in the Run to Quit study stuck it out till the end. Of those who did, 91 percent reported, at minimum, cutting down on how much they were smoking.

“Even if someone wasn't able to fully quit, reducing their smoking is great,” said Carly Priebe, postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study. “But it's also about just being active. Most of our sample was new to running, and if it's something that can become part of their lifestyle, then there are health benefits that may counteract some of their smoking behaviours.”

Run to Quit operated in 21 locations in 2016 and is up to 50 locations this year. People who feel that running is too challenging will now be able to choose a walk to quit option, which includes a five-kilometer walk during week 10.

The program costs from $50-70, less than a carton of cigarettes. And of course, people can always just lace up their running shoes and head out the door on their own, though they'll miss out on the social support.

The study appears in Mental Health and Physical Activity.

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