The study included 20 moderately heavy smokers, who had abstained from cigarettes for 15 hours before the trial. Over the course of two laboratory visits, participants were shown smoking-related and neutral images, and then spent 15 minutes sitting or exercising on an bike at moderate intensity. Afterwards, they were shown the images again.
When the participants were shown the images, the research team employed the latest eye tracking technology to measure and record eye movements. The team was able to both measure the length of time people looked at smoking related images as well as how quickly pictures of cigarettes could grab their attention, compared with non-smoking matched images.
The study found an 11% difference in the time the participants spent looking at smoking-related images after exercise, compared with the sitting group. Also, after exercise, participants took longer to look at smoking-related images. The researchers conclude that exercise, therefore, appears to reduce the power of smoking-related images to grab visual attention.
Lead author of the study, PhD student Kate Van Rensburg, said, “We know that smoking related images can be powerful triggers fro smokers who are abstaining. 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 this makes it more difficult for them to quit.”
She continues saying that, “Because of this, it’s very exciting to find that such a a short burst of exercise can somewhat reduce the power of such images. It is not clear if longer or more vigorous bouts of exercise have a bigger effect. This study adds to the growing evidence that exercise can be a great help for people trying to give up smoking.”