Exercise can make cigarettes less tempting to smokers and may help them kick the habit, says a new study.

Research from the University of Exeter shows that exercise can decrease the power of cigarettes and smoking-related images that grab the attention of smokers.

The study involved moderately heavy smokers, who had abstained from cigarettes for 15 hours before the trial.

“We know that smoking-related images can be powerful triggers for smokers who are abstaining,” said Kate Janse Van Rensburg, doctoral student at the University of Exeter, who led the study.

“While we are no longer faced with advertisements for cigarettes, smokers are still faced with seeing people smoking on television, in photographs or in person. We know that this makes it more difficult for them to quit,” added Ms. Rensburg.

“During two visits to our laboratory participants began by being shown smoking-related and neutral images, and then spent either 15 minutes sitting or exercising on a stationary bike at a moderate intensity. Afterwards, they were again shown the images,” she said.

While participants were shown the images, the research team used the latest technology to measure and record their precise eye movements.

They were able to show not only the length of time people looked at such images but also how quickly pictures of cigarettes could grab their attention, compared with non-smoking matched images.

The study showed an 11 per cent difference between the time the participants spent looking at the smoking-related images after exercise, compared with the after sitting.

Also, after exercise, participants took longer to look at smoking-related images. Exercise, therefore, appears to reduce the power of the smoking-related images to grab visual attention.

Numerous studies have shown that a single session of light to moderate intensity exercise, for example five-15 minutes of brisk walking, can reduce cravings and responses to smoking cues, said an Exeter release.

The study was published in Addiction.

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