study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in December 2017 suggests that even moderate intensity exercise reduces the severity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms in smokers.

Researchers at St. George’s University of London exposed mice to nicotine for 14 days and measured the effects of exercise intensity on their nicotine withdrawal symptoms. The mice were either given access to an exercise wheel for 24 hours a day, 2 hours a day or not at all. On the 14th day, researchers analyzed the mice’s withdrawal symptoms. The results showed that the mice who had access to the exercise wheel, whether for 2 hours or 24, experienced less severe withdrawal symptoms compared to the sedentary mice.

The study also shows that exercise produces an up-regulation of the hippocampal α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, a type of nicotine brain receptor.

“We demonstrated for the first time a profound effect of exercise on α7 nAChRs [nicotinic acetylcholine receptors] in nicotine-dependent animals, irrespective of exercise intensity. These findings shed light onto the mechanism underlining the protective effect of exercise on the development of nicotine dependence,” wrote lead study author Helen Keyworth, at the University of Surrey, and colleagues.

“[O]ur results demonstrate the effectiveness of even a moderate amount of exercise during nicotine exposure in attenuating nicotine withdrawal symptoms and point towards the hippocampal α7 nAChR system as a potential mechanism underlining this effect. These findings may also have implications for the development of targeted interventions prior to smoking cessation, which may increase the chances of smoking cessation.”

The positive effects of exercise are consistent with earlier human clinical studies that show that undertaking even 10 minutes of moderate intensity exercise when trying to quit smoking can reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

While the number of Canadians who smoke is declining, according to a 2016 Statistics Canada report, smoking is still the cause of 45,000 deaths each year or 1 in 5 deaths in the country. The report indicates that 16.9% of Canadians aged 12 or older smoke daily or occasionally, down from 17.7% in 2015.

In humans, typical nicotine withdrawal symptoms include, nicotine cravings, anger, irritability, anxiety and depression.

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