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Learning to kick (or walk, or jog) the habit

Some smokers are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to kicking the habit. They want to quit but don’t want to gain the extra weight associated with smoking cessation. After all, being overweight is just as bad as being a smoker, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t. Especially since the average weight gained by an ex-smoker is around seven pounds—not enough to put someone at great harm. In contrast, smokers have a two- to three-fold risk of dying from heart disease. The good news is that there’s a smoking-cessation technique that may help you extinguish the habit without having to loosen your belt buckle: exercise.

Researchers at Brown University School of Medicine in Rhode Island studied the effects of exercise, weight gain and smoking cessation on 281 female ex-smokers-in-training. The findings: A year after completing a 12-week program, twice as many exercisers as nonexercisers remained smoke-free.

Although initially the exercisers put on fewer pounds after quitting, by the end of the year both groups had gained about the same amount.

However, the interesting finding here is not who lost more weight but that exercise can help people kick the habit. Whether it works as a stress-reliever, depression-lifter or confidence-builder, exercise appears to be an important component of a successful smoking-cessation strategy.

Go for a brisk walk every time you crave a cigarette. Do a few good-morning stretches instead of having a good-morning smoke. Turn the after-meal cigarette into an after-meal stroll around the neighborhood. If you are determined to kick the habit, sign up for an aerobics class.

Eventually, the urge to exercise may replace your cravings for a cigarette. Stressful situations can be defused with a quick walk instead of a cigarette. A day of feeling blue may inspire you to ask a friend to join you at the gym rather than reach for nicotine.

After you have kicked the habit for good, focus on losing any added weight. With exercise a part of your daily routine, you’re already halfway to your heart-smart goal.