We reviewed the evidence about the effect of exercise programmes in people who want to quit smoking. We looked at whether exercise programmes, either alone or combined with stop smoking programmes, helped more people to quit at six months or longer than stop smoking programmes alone or stop smoking programmes combined with health education.
Specialist clinics and self-help materials regularly recommend exercise to people who want to quit smoking. Taking regular exercise may help people give up smoking by helping with withdrawal and cravings, and by helping to manage weight gain.
The evidence is current to April 2014. We found 20 trials with a total of 5,870 participants. Nine studies were in women only and one study was in men only. Studies varied in the timing and intensity of programmes offered. We only included studies that measured smoking at six months or longer. In most of the trials, the exercise programmes included group and home-based exercise.
Since these studies used different types and intensities of exercise programmes, the results were not combined.
In four studies, people who received the exercise programme were significantly more likely to quit smoking at end of treatment than people who only received a stop smoking programme. Only two of the 20 trials offered evidence for exercise helping people to quit smoking in the long term. In one of these studies, the people in the exercise group had significantly higher quit rates at three-month follow-up and at 12 months, the results from this study were borderline significant. In this study, people who received the exercise programme were more than twice as likely to still be quit at 12 months. Another study reported significantly higher quit rates at six month follow-up for a combined exercise and smoking cessation programme compared with brief smoking cessation advice. The other studies did not find an effect of exercise programmes on quit rates but that could have been because they were small studies or because the exercise programmes were not intense enough.
Quality of evidence
The level of evidence for whether exercise programmes help people quit smoking is very low and more research is needed. There are issues with study design, possible risk of bias, and differences between the studies.