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Quitting Smoking? Don't Gain Weight

Keep Your Weight Steady for Best Improvement in Lung Function, Say Researchers
WebMD Health News

May 5, 2005 -- Your lungs will love you for quitting smoking, and they'll work even better if you don't gain extra pounds in the process.

That news comes from a British study in The Lancet. "Smoking cessation is beneficial for lung function, but maximum benefit needs control of weight gain, especially in men," write Susan Chinn, DSc, and colleagues.

Many people gain some weight when they quit smoking, says the CDC. The average amount gained is relatively small -- less than 10 pounds, says the CDC. Of course, it's possible to maintain your weight during the transition. Healthy eating and exercise help.

Other studies have shown a pattern of poorer lung function with excess weight. That may be reason to keep weight in check while quitting smoking.

Breathing Easier

Chinn studied more than 6,600 people who were 20-44 years old in the early 1990s. Lung function, weight, body mass index (BMI), and smoking status were noted then and again five to 11 years later.

Nonsmokers, not surprisingly, scored best on lung function. Over the years, lung function dipped a bit with everyone. That's normally seen during aging, says an editorial in the journal.

Everyone also added a few pounds -- anywhere from half a pound to 1.7 pounds per year.

The biggest yearly weight gain -- about 1.7 pounds per year for men and women - was in people who quit smoking. Those who quit smoking and then fell off the wagon gained the least weight, about half a pound yearly.

The weight gain cut about 38% of the lung function benefit of quitting smoking for men and 17% for women, say Chinn and colleagues.

Keep in mind that the study only looked at lung function. Other health hazards linked to smoking - such as risk of heart disease, stroke, premature death, and cancer -- weren't tracked.

"The benefits of smoking cessation, in terms of decreased mortality, greatly outweigh any health risks," say doctors including Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, MBBS, of Harvard Medical School and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, in an editorial.

Within two years of quitting, the death rates for former smokers dropped by 17% compared with those who continued to smoke, write Colditz and colleagues.

"The findings of Chinn and colleagues suggest that these health advantages could potentially be increased by weight control at the time of quitting."

Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain When Quitting Smoking

Emphasize exercise and get plenty of support, notes the editorial. Other advice includes:

  • Keep your food intake the same and burn 200 extra calories a day through exercise.
  • Go for unprocessed, complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) instead of refined or sugary items.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Plan ahead for snacks.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Find other ways to cope with anxiety and stress.

Some smoking cessation medications may also help, says the CDC. Check with your doctor about those.

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