Exercise helps pregnant women quit smoking

There's never a better time for a woman to quit smoking than when she's pregnant, and all it takes is a little exercise.

Researchers from St. George's University in London found that even just one day of exercise a week could help pregnant women quit smoking before giving birth.

In a study of 32 pregnant women, 25 per cent kicked the habit. That figure is comparable to non-pregnant smokers who use nicotine replacement, such as patches and gums, to quit.

"These results are very encouraging and we are now conducting a randomized controlled trial with 850 women," said lead study author Michael Ussher. "Regular exercise is ideal for any pregnant women who smoke as it's obviously safe and the benefits are enormous."

Smoking during pregnancy can contribute to low birth weight and increased risk of infant mortality, as well as learning difficulties, behavioural problems and asthma in childhood, according to the study.

Pregnant women face more obstacles to quitting because nicotine replacement therapy may harm the fetus.

Researchers are now seeking alternatives, such as exercise, which has been proven to reduce smokers' nicotine cravings.

This most recent study included pregnant women over age 18 who smoked at least one cigarette per day.

They were between 12 and 20 weeks into their pregnancies.

One group exercised once a week for six weeks, while a second group exercised twice a week for six weeks, then once a week for three weeks.

Researchers supervised the exercise, which included walking on a treadmill.
The subjects were also encouraged to exercise more often if they were able.

In addition to quitting smoking outright, many of the study subjects found they had fewer cravings for cigarettes, lost weight and had a better self image.

Many women begin smoking again after they give birth, the researchers said. Further studies will help determine if physical activity can help reduce the likelihood of relapse.

The findings are published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.