The effects of acute exercise on cognitive functioning and cigarette cravings during temporary abstinence from smoking




Abstinence from smoking is associated with increased cravings, risk of accidents and self-reported poor concentration. A single exercise session can reduce cravings and self-reported poor concentration and can enhance cognitive performance among non-smokers.


To assess whether acute exercise impacts on the cognitive performance and cravings of abstaining smokers.


In a counterbalanced cross-over design, participants (n = 23) did a 15 min passive or exercise condition, following cigarette abstinence. Cognitive functioning was measured by a computerised version of the Stroop colour-word interference task. Cravings were measured using the 10-item, 2-factor QSU-Brief and a single item for ‘desire to smoke’. Measures were recorded at baseline, immediately post, 5, 10 and 15-min post treatment.


A 2-way ANOVA showed no significant condition × time interaction for cognitive functioning. Significant interaction effects were found for desire to smoke, QSU Factor 1 (desire–behave) and 2 (desire–affect). Exercise reduced cravings for up to 15 min post treatment.


Findings support previous research that acute exercise reduces cravings to smoke. Future research should determine if exercise can enhance other objective aspects of cognitive performance, and repeat the present study with a more homogeneous sample, in terms of Stroop performance.


This is the first study to show that exercise can reduce both factors of the QSU-Brief, but effects on cognitive functioning were not observed. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.