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Moderate Exercise May Help Pregnant Women Kick the Habit

Update Date: Nov 22, 2013 09:09 AM EST

Pregnancy is usually a joyful time, fill of expectation and longing. However, for pregnant women who smoked before becoming pregnant, it may prove to be a difficult time as they try to cut their nicotine cravings for the sake of their unborn child.

A new Canadian study found that even just a brisk walk can help a smoking women temporarily quit the habit during her pregnancy. Exercise has been shown to help men and women quit smoking, however, no research had shown it may also help pregnant women. During pregnancy, a women's metabolism is higher, therefore cravings are stronger, wrote Harry Prapavessis, director of the Exercise and Health Psychology Laboratory at Western University in Ontario, Canada, who led the research.

"This was the first time we have been able to replicate the findings with pregnant smokers," Harry Prapavessis wrote in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

As part of the study, researchers looked at 30 pregnant women from Canada and England. All smoked a daily average of more than 5 cigarettes a day. They were asked to not smoke at least 15 hours prior into coming into the laboratory. Half of the women were asked to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes while the other half watch a gardening video. Those who exercised reported a weaker craving for cigarettes.

The women who exercised also reported less irritability, restlessness, tension and other withdrawal symptoms. But because of the study's small size, those results could have happened by chance.

"This translates not as a cure for quitting, but it can be part of a strategy," said Dr. Sharon Phelan, who was not involved in the study.

Smoking while pregnant can lead to low birth weight in babies, miscarriages and preterm birth. There's also an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome and language delays in children.

While there's no safe amount of smoking for pregnant women, the more they smoke, the worse the outcomes for their babies, she said.

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