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With April the month of health awareness, it’s yet another reason to try and kick that cigarette habit. Though smoking is on the decrease, there are still an estimated 7 million people in South Africa aged 18 or older who need their fix. Nicotine is a powerful drug that develops dependence in its users, and it’s ranked third on the list of the world’s most addictive substances, behind hard drugs like crack cocaine and heroin.

Now a new wave of people are discovering the proven benefits of exercise in their quest to kick the habit. While smoking aids like e-cigarettes and nicotine gum end up prolonging the dependence on nicotine, exercise is a potent alternative to the craving, and helps develop a healthy mind and a healthy body.

Here are 5 ways getting active can help you break the habit for good.Exercise releases endorphins

Endorphins are a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system that produce a “feel-good feeling”. As it turns out, endorphins are also a good way of suppressing the craving for a cigarette.

“We see it all the time – when people get in the gym, they leave their vices at the door,” says Ivana Buchanan, group training specialist at Zone Fitness.

When it comes to smoking, the endorphin rush of a good workout is an effective way of beating your craving.

Exercise gives you a long term goal to strive for

Having something to work towards gives you a sense of purpose, and a set of goals will give you a long-term goal that will trump the need to smoke.

The idea of working towards a goal over a period of time will also give you the focus you need to avoid slipping back into your old habits.

And once you start seeing the healthy changes your body goes through, it’ll help motivate you to keep going too.

Exercise improves your mental wellbeing

“The nicotine addiction is physical, yes, but a great deal of it is mental too,” says Buchanan, who has seen first-hand the benefits clients reap from the emotional stability of exercise.

Exercise can help you cultivate a healthy mindset and will focus your energy in living in the present and not seeking alternate satisfaction, Buchanan says.

Exercise creates a support group around you

The gym is ultimately a community, according to Buchanan. “Finding someone to exercise alongside is a great way of staying motivated.” And that means not only achieving your fitness goals, but also keeping on a cigarette-free path.

A person at your side will empathise with your struggle. Plus, knowing you have someone who will be disappointed if you give in to the cravings is a huge motivator.

Exercise eases boredom

Believe it or not, boredom is a potent reason for lighting up in the first place, but instead of reaching for a stray cigarette, concentrate on keeping active.

If you’re bored at work or have an hour free, hit the gym, or concentrate on doing simple exercises at your desk. You’d be amazed what you’ll achieve performing leg raises while you’re seated behind your laptop.

Resist the urge to indulge that cigarette break. Get up from your desk if you need to change of scenery and go for a brisk walk instead, or take an hour out of your day to stay active. You’ll wind up being more productive on the job in the long run.

Zone Fitness is a nationwide gym brand in South Africa with 22 gyms across the country.

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