Horn found that all of the teens increased their exercise activity to some degreejust by virtue of being in the study. However, teens who reported increasing the number of days in which they got just 20 minutes a day of exercise were able to significantly cut back on the cigarettes they smoked.
Horn's previous study showed that the most powerful way for teens to quit smoking was if they participated in a program called Not-On-Tobacco; it was even more powerful for boys with an added fitness component. The researchers believe that the 20-minute threshold for changing smoking behavior deserves further study.
Certainly, the study has limitations, says Horn. "We don't fully understand the clinical relevance of ramping up daily activity to 20 or 30 minutes a day with these teens. But we do know that even modest improvements in exercise may have health benefits. Our study supports the idea that encouraging one healthy behavior can serve to promote another, and it shows that teens, often viewed as resistant to behavior change, can tackle two health behaviors at once."
Additional research must confirm the key findings and prove that they apply to all teen smokers and not just those in West Virginia, Horn says. And researchers still do not know the mechanism that might explain the findings. However, she says that physical activity is known to spur the release of the body's feel-good chemicals called endorphins. One possible explanation is that those substances might help teen smokers better deal with the cravings or weather the withdrawal symptoms that often lead to relapse, she said.
|Contact: Kathy Fackelmann|
George Washington University