Staying off tobacco

Just knowing the health risks of tobacco (including lung cancer, head and neck cancers, and heart disease) and the mental health benefits of quitting tobacco (getting better quality sleep, improved mental health, and reduced stress levels) may not be adequate reasons to motivate smokers to quit. Studies show that campaigns which emphasize the truth about the tobacco industry and the real cost of smoking are more effective in helping people quit.

Social support helps people quit tobacco

Social support helps people quit tobacco

But what else? Here are what the research says:

1. Guidance from a professional coach
Research shows that professional counselling can help smokers successfully quit: A coach or counsellor can help individuals develop a personal stop-smoking plan.

2. Reduce dependence using nicotine medicines 
There are 5 nicotine medicines which are recognised to boost the success of quitting tobacco: gum, patch, lozenge, nasal spray, and inhaler.

3. Going cold turkey isn’t for everyone
Quitting on willpower is the least successful way to quit tobacco. But counselling and nicotine substitutes are not the only available strategies. Exercise reduces the urge to smoke and withdrawal symptoms, while social support via social media is gaining popularity for its efficacy in helping ex-smokers stay tobacco-free. And there are a few more: hypnosis, acupuncture, yoga, and mindfulness are some of them.

4. Get the right kind of emotional support
Participants in a 2014 study were better at talking to their loved ones about quitting smoking if they had received face-to-face or online training on how to communicate their concern (without nagging or confrontation) than if they received only pamphlets.

5. Don’t be afraid to use your smartphone
A 2014 study showed that constant reminders from a text-messaging service helped people stay off tobacco.

6. Challenge your brain
Engaging in exciting activities (e.g., puzzles, hobbies, games), which challenge the brain, with a loved one can be an effective strategy for reducing nicotine cravings.

7. Use e-cigarettes to boost willpower
E-cigarettes create an inhalable nicotine vapour by heating a liquid nicotine solution. It’s not clear what the long-term effects are, but research shows e-cigarettes to be more effective in helping people successfully quit smoking compared to willpower alone or patches and gum. Recent reports do however caution the use of e-cigarettes (“No conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit: WHO report”, Today online, 27 August 2014).

Exercising. What’s the fuss all about?

Exercise that doesn't feel like exercise!

Yes, we know. It’s good to be physically active (here’s why, in case you didn’t already know). And yes. We should all be doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. That’s an average of 20 minutes every day.

That’s about the amount of walking we would get from walking to and from the MRT station or bus stop. Especially if you have to change trains at Dhoby Ghaut.

But having a transportation routine that minimises walking might mean that some of us don’t get the minimum physical activity requirements. What’s the alternative? Doing a weekly 75 minutes of cardiovascular activity in which you reach your optimal heart rate for burning calories. Or some combination of both. Walking the park connectors for 20 minutes after dinner 3 times a week and running up enough stairs for a 10 minute work out every other day, would meet said requirement.

But knowing what to do isn’t the issue. The problem is actually doing it.

When we were hunters and gatherers, we probably wouldn’t have had to attend a lunchtime talk on the health benefits of exercise or signed up for free bootcamp and gym classes. We’d get fit simply from planting vegetables, picking up duck eggs, and paddling to fetch food from the sea.

That’s not to suggest that we need to start doing that now. But there is the possibility that we can be physically active without having to “exercise”. It would certainly make these excuses go away: I don’t have time, I don’t have the determination or discipline, I don’t like getting sweaty, Exercise is boring, and I don’t know how to exercise (so says the CDC). Sound familiar?

We are much more likely to prioritize time for something that we’re interested to learn, be it a self-defense skill like judo, fencing, and wushu or a useful skill such as horse riding. More so when it’s a skill that we’ve challenged ourselves to learn (and paid membership fees for) like yoga (here’s a comprehensive listing).

It definitely won’t be boring.

You won’t need willpower to get to class.

You wouldn’t care whether exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, regardless of whether your BMI or cholesterol is puts you in the high risk category or not (as explained here).

And while you’re busy thinking about steps and music in line dancing (various community centres host social events) and swing dancing (swing dance, what’s that?), sweating will probably be the last thing on your mind. You’ll be surprised how much walking is involved in west coast swing (take classes here) and how much core you need to engage for argentine tango (milongas listed here).

Getting active doesn’t require a manual. It involves doing something fun. Like trampolining and sailing.

Of course, it helps to set concrete goals (Oprah has tips) and mobilize your troops (otherwise known as your friends) for social support. It also helps if you’re not also trying to use self-control in other aspects of your life, such as trying not to eat doughnuts (according to research reported in this APS Observer article). With people stuck with the double whammy of lowering dietary intake and increasing physical output, bootcamps and gym classes come with complimentary workout task masters.

But it’s easier when it’s something that you enjoy. Like shopping…for clothes to go with your new hobby.