Making the Case: The Connection Between Physical Activity And Tobacco Use

Physical activity and tobacco use prevention

Young women at risk for both tobacco use and inactivity share many features, and the literature demonstrates a significant association between inactivity and smoking initiation. For instance, low self-esteem and weight concerns are strong predictors of smoking initiation in young women, factors which are also associated with inactivity.

Studies demonstrate that self-esteem impacts specific factors such as confidence, perceived control and anxiety, which in turn influence participation in physical activity and smoking initiation. Due to the highly varied risk factors for youth smoking and physical inactivity, individualized programming tends to be the most successful intervention approach.

Physical activity and tobacco cessation

Recent evidence suggests that physical activity ought to be an integral part of tobacco cessation interventions and programs. Various studies report significant differences in tobacco abstinence between groups of physically active and inactive subjects, including significant differences at a 12-month follow-up.

Physical activity tones down many of the physical and psychological symptoms brought on by nicotine withdrawal. Brisk physical activity reduces cravings and difficulties in falling asleep during the first week after quitting. One study demonstrated the moderating effect of physical activity on mood disturbances brought on by tobacco cessation—more specifically, on anxiety, tension, and stress in the first week of abstinence, on irritability in the second week, and on restlessness in the third week. In another study, physically active abstainers showed an increase in positive feelings and a decrease in depression four months after quitting, while inactive abstainers showed an increase in negative affect.

Literature consistently identifies physical activity as an effective and healthy weight management strategy. Weight management is a major concern for women as they contemplate quitting, as well as a key element in their decision to act, and a strong risk
factor for relapse. Tobacco cessation programs should aim to reduce weight concerns and assist women in wisely estimating possible weight gain. As well, interventions should draw attention to the various issues related to healthy body weight, such as pressure to be thin, muscle mass and percentage of body fat.

In the context of tobacco cessation, physical activity also presents a range of advantages. By increasing self-esteem and coping abilities, physical activity significantly facilitates quitting efforts. People who are physically active as they quit smoking appear to have greater confidence in their abilities to maintain a smoke-free lifestyle. Physical activity also offsets the devastating short- and long-term health effects of smoking.

One study revealed that young adults show favorable attitudes towards physical activity as a strategy to support tobacco cessation. In this study, young adults reported that physical activity actually exposed them to the negative effects of smoking by accentuating them, which in turn motivated the young adults to quit. Young adults showed much enthusiasm and consideration for this strategy, and a strong majority believed that the promotion of smoking cessation programs should take place within a physical activity environment.




Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity
N202 - 801 King Edward Avenue
Ottawa, ON, Canada K1N 6N5
Phone: 613-562-5667
Fax: 613-562-5668