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Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2013 Jun;21(3):196-203. doi: 10.1037/a0032768.

Impact of aerobic exercise intensity on craving and reactivity to smoking cues.

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Tobacco Research and Intervention Program, Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida 33617, USA.


Aerobic exercise can acutely reduce cigarette cravings during periods of nicotine deprivation. The primary aim of this study was to assess the differential effects of light and vigorous intensity aerobic exercise on cigarette cravings, subjective and physiological reactivity to smoking cues, and affect after overnight nicotine deprivation. A secondary aim was to examine cortisol change as a mediator of the effects of exercise on smoking motivation. 162 (55 female, 107 male) overnight nicotine-deprived smokers were randomized to one of three exercise conditions: light intensity, vigorous intensity, or a passive control condition. After each condition, participants engaged in a standardized cue reactivity assessment. Self-reported urges to smoke, affect, and salivary cortisol were assessed at baseline (i.e., before each condition), immediately after each condition, and after the cue reactivity assessment. Light and vigorous exercise significantly decreased urges to smoke and increased positive affect, relative to the control condition. In addition, those in the vigorous exercise condition demonstrated suppressed appetitive reactivity to smoking cues, as indexed by the startle eyeblink reflex. Although exercise intensity was associated with expected changes in cortisol concentration, these effects were not related to changes in craving or cue reactivity. Both light and vigorous exercise can reduce general cravings to smoke, whereas vigorous exercise appears especially well-suited for reducing appetitive reactions to cues that may precede smoking. Results did not support exercise-induced cortisol release as a mechanism for these effects.

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