For pregnant women who want to quit
smoking, a brisk walk can temporarily stave off tobacco cravings, says a
Previous research has shown that exercise
can interrupt nicotine cravings for both men and women.
Whether the same was true for expecting
mothers was unclear because pregnant women have increased metabolism, which can
intensify longings for a cigarette, the researchers write in the journal
Addictive Behaviours. "This was the first time we have been able to
replicate the findings with pregnant smokers," Harry Prapavessis said.
Prapavessis, director of the Exercise and
Health Psychology Laboratory at Western University in Ontario, Canada, led the
According to his team's results, 15 to 20
minutes of walking at a mild to moderate pace is sufficient to ward off
For the study, researchers recruited 30
pregnant women in their second trimester in Canada and England. All of the
women smoked more than five cigarettes a day and were not regular exercisers.
Half the women were assigned to walk on
a treadmill and the rest to watch a home gardening video for 20 minutes. Both
groups did not smoke for between 15 and 19 hours before entering the lab.
The walkers reported an average 30%
reduction in the desire to smoke based on a seven-point scale. But the cravings
returned. Thirty minutes after exercising, the same group of women reported
only a 17% craving reduction.
The exercising women also reported less
irritability, restlessness, tension and other withdrawal symptoms. But because
of the study's small size, those results could have happened by
chance. "This translates not as a cure for quitting, but it can be part of
a strategy," said Dr Sharon Phelan, who was not involved in the study.
Phelan is a fellow with the American
Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) and professor at the
University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque."The challenge
is that there isn't one reason why pregnant women have an addiction,"
Phelan told Reuters Health.
"I think it's a very positive
study," said Dr Raul Artal of Saint Louis University School of Medicine in
Missouri. Artal helped write exercise and pregnancy guidelines for ACOG.
He said the new study will need to be
repeated according to medicine's gold standard of testing a randomised,
controlled trial. "But, based on common sense, the message is good,"
Prapavessis said his team's results can
only be applied to women about 25 years old, the average age in the study. But,
"I would like to think that we can repeat the findings with older or
younger pregnant smokers." Prapavessis pointed out that because of the
social stigma associated with smoking while pregnant, recruiting pregnant women
for such studies can be extremely difficult.
The next step, he said, would be to repeat
the results with women walking in natural environments outside of their homes.
"We want to see if this craving effect can be reproduced when women go for
a brisk walk for about 15 minutes in a natural setting," he said.
Pregnant women also have the option to try
nicotine replacement therapy drugs, like skin patches or lozenges, but more
evidence is needed to know if these are completely safe during pregnancy,
To help pregnant smokers quit, Phelan
stressed the importance of understanding the underlying reasons why a pregnant
woman smokes. "It's like when someone has a fever. You can treat it with
an aspirin, but you haven't reached the underlying cause. One
therapy for everyone isn't going to fit all," Phelan noted.
Still, regardless of whether a woman has
stopped smoking, exercise offers positive benefits, like improved circulation
and muscle tone she said.
ACOG supports 30 minutes of light exercise
like walking three or four times a week during pregnancy, Phelan said, but
pregnant women should always talk with their healthcare provider before
To beat cigarette cravings, she said,
"This is a valid option to suggest to women and it may be helpful for
some, but not to others."