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Physically Active Young People Less Likely to Take Up Smoking

People who exercise regularly smoke less than those who are physically inactive. Researchers have debated over whether a causal relationship between physical activity and smoking exists.

A commonly held view is that it all comes down to the family: if the family encourages physical activity, the children are more likely to adopt a healthier lifestyle. According to a recent study, family environment is only a part of the explanation.

Professors Urho Kujala from University of Jyväskylä, Jaakko Kaprio from University of Helsinki, and Richard Rose from University of Indiana researched the issue in co-operation. Their study is part of a follow-up study of young Finnish twins supported by the U.S. Ministry of Health, EU, and the Academy of Finland.

The study observed 1870 pairs of twins. Individual analysis showed that, compared to the physically active 16-18-year-olds, the physically inactive adolescents were five times as likely to be smokers by the age of 24. When the analyses were specified to comparing the physically active twins to their physically inactive siblings, the risk of the inactive twin lighting up in adulthood was over three times as high.

The study found differences between the physically active and physically inactive members of the twin pairs also when it came to starting smoking. Professor of Sports & Exercise Medicine Urho Kujala stresses that a family environment which encourages a healthy and active lifestyle cannot alone explain why such a low percentage of the physically active siblings took up smoking.

- It is important not to focus solely on molecular biology when conducting extensive research projects, but to also analyze parts of the data which offer practical applications to the issue and are understandable to the general public. Understanding human behaviour and formation of the habits that affect people’s health is important to public health, Kujala emphasizes.

The study has been published in Addiction Journal, which is the leader of publications that focus on addiction to intoxicants. In the editorial, Paul Aveyard from University of Birmingham, and Michael Ussher from University of London regard the results of the study so convincing that they go on to suggest further research, in which adolescents experimenting with addictive substances would be guided into physical activity interventions. These interventions would hopefully protect adolescents from taking up smoking.

Liisa Harjula | alfa
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