The effects of exercise on mental health and nicotine addiction

The effects of exercise on mental health and nicotine addiction

We are all aware that physical exercise is good for us but with depression and smoking costing society an estimated £8billion and £13.8 billion per year, in England alone, how much exercise is sufficient to acutely impact on affect, mood and smoking-related outcomes?

Research from the Sport and Health Sciences department, led by Professor Adrian Taylor, has identified gaps in the evidence-base for the effects of physical activity on mental health and nicotine addiction which has led to the prioritisation of funding for further research to resolve uncertainty in clinical guidelines.

The research team carried out a series of randomised trials, laboratory studies and systematic reviews of the data to assess the benefit of physical exercise for people with mental health problems, such as depression or addiction.

Their findings have significantly contributed to the evidence-base underpinning global health care policy guidelines - including those produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE); the research has also raised global media interest, informing public debate and clinically supporting patients and practitioners on best practice.

The National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR-HTA) funded systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) which revealed that exercise referral schemes (ERS) have only a small, if any, benefit for increasing long-term physical activity and reducing depression; however, in 2005, Professor Taylor and colleagues at Bristol developed an eight month counselling intervention to assist increases in physical activity for depressed patients over a longer period.

The eight month intervention drew on principles of motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioural therapy to enhance constructs of competence, autonomy and relatedness. The NIHR-HTA funded RCT showed that the intervention, which was offered to 161 depressed patients, increased physical activity, but did not reduce depression, compared with usual care.

Through two years of collaborative research involving both NHS Stop Smoking Service advisors and approximately 140 smokers - in Plymouth and Birmingham, the researchers developed a way to integrate physical activity into routine care, using the self-help ‘Walk-2-Quit’ guide.

The research has been widely cited as evidence that a short bout of moderate intensity exercise such as walking can temporarily reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms; these citations have, in turn, influenced the adoption of this source by a wide range of charities and other organisations offering support to smokers.