, Volume 232, Issue 6, pp 1071–1081 | Cite as

Effects of exercise on the desire to smoke and physiological responses to temporary smoking abstinence: a crossover trial

  • Vaughan Roberts
  • Nicholas Gant
  • John J. SollersIII
  • Chris Bullen
  • Yannan Jiang
  • Ralph MaddisonEmail author
Original Investigation



Exercise has been shown to attenuate cigarette cravings during temporary smoking abstinence; however, the mechanisms of action are not clearly understood.


The objectives of the study were to compare the effects of three exercise intensities on desire to smoke and explore potential neurobiological mediators of desire to smoke.


Following overnight abstinence, 40 participants (25 males, 18–59 years) completed three 15 min sessions of light-, moderate-, or vigorous-intensity exercise on a cycle ergometer in a randomized crossover design. Ratings of desire to smoke were self-reported pre- and post-exercise and heart rate variability was measured throughout. Saliva and blood were analyzed for cortisol and noradrenaline in a sub-sample.


Exercise influenced desire to smoke (F [2, 91] = 7.94, p < 0.01), with reductions greatest immediately after vigorous exercise. There were also significant time x exercise intensity interaction effects for heart rate variability and plasma noradrenaline (F [8, 72] = 2.23, p = 0.03), with a bias in noradrenaline occurring between light and vigorous conditions (adjusted mean difference [SE] = 2850 ng/ml [592], p < 0.01) at 5 min post-exercise. There was no interaction of time x exercise intensity for plasma and salivary cortisol levels.


These findings support the use of vigorous exercise to reduce cigarette cravings, showing potential alterations in a noradrenergic marker.


Smoking Cigarette cravings Exercise Noradrenaline Cortisol Heart rate variability 


Financial support

This study was an investigator-initiated study funded by a Performance Based Research Grant from the University of Auckland. RM was supported by a Heart Foundation of New Zealand Fellowship. VR was supported by a University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship.

Conflict of interest

VR, NG, JS, YJ, and RM have no conflicts of interest to disclose. CB has received support for accommodation while a speaker hosted by a manufacturer of smoking cessation drugs but has no other interests to declare.

Ethical standards

The authors assert that all procedures contributing to this work comply with the ethical standards of the relevant national and institutional committees on human experimentation and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vaughan Roberts
    • 1
  • Nicholas Gant
    • 2
  • John J. SollersIII
    • 3
  • Chris Bullen
    • 1
  • Yannan Jiang
    • 1
  • Ralph Maddison
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.National Institute for Health InnovationUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Sport and Exercise ScienceUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.Psychological Medicine DepartmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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