Now that Life After Cigarettes has been out for a year and some change, I thought it might be an opportune moment to sift through my follow-up file and provide a few updates:
In Chapter 4, I mentioned evidence that in addition to increasing physical activity, it’s important to reduce sedentary time. A new study by Emmanuel Stamatakis and colleagues in the American Journal of Cardiology tracked over 4,500 Scottish men (Now, why do so many studies focus on men only? Where were all those Scottish women?) and concluded that too much sitting could reduce if not reverse the benefits of exercise. How much is too much? Wait for it: Two or more leisure hours/day in front of a screen doubled the risk of a cardiac event and four or more hours per day were associated with a 50% increase in the likelihood of dying from any cause. A lot of us are in trouble! My own solution (which so far as I know has never had the benefit of scientific testing) is to set a timer for 30 minutes when I sit at the computer and get up and do something else – anything else (except maybe eating) – for a few minutes whenever it rings. Getting up and exercising or just walking around during TV commercials is a similar strategy.
In Chapter 8, I spoke of my old, unrealized dream of using age progression software to allow women to visualize two different images of themselves in ten years: 1) how they might look if they continue to smoke; and 2) how they might look if they quit smoking today. The keep-smoking version would show more signs of aging, wrinkling, and graying; the woman would appear somewhat thinner, to be sure, but also more haggard and less shapely. I recently received an e-mail from a colleague captioned “You were right!!!” and citing a new article in the British Journal of Psychology entitled “Women smokers’ experiences of an age-appearance anti-smoking intervention: A qualitative study.” In this study, Sarah Grogan and colleagues used age-progression software to morph a photo of each participant’s face into smoking vs. not-smoking versions of herself at 2-year intervals. The authors reported that irrespective of parental status, age, or whether they were pregnant, participants reported that the images provoked a strong fear of visible aging, especially skin wrinkling, that translated to increased motivation to quit smoking. Further research will now be needed to confirm that that increased motivation to quit translates to actual quitting,
Under “Additional Reading and Resources” for Chapter 5, I cited Charla Krupp’s book How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, and 10 Times Better. If you liked this book, or if you’re still too young to worry about looking old but have an interest in dressing thin, you might want to check out her latest book How to Never Look Fat Again: Over 1,000 Ways to Dress Thinner – Without Dieting! (Springboard Press, 2010). The kindle and hardcover editions are already available and the paperback version will be out in March. Like its predecessor, this book devotes each chapter to a single problem area (arm flap, big bust, muffin top, Buddha belly, etc.) and offers dozens of suggestions for nondietary, nonexercise, and (mostly) nonsurgical approaches to dealing with them. Photos provide horrible examples of what not to wear as well as alternatives that achieve the desired effect.
In a previous blog post I discussed food addiction. The link between food consumption and addictive behaviors, the neurobiological processes underlying this link, and the ways in which the food and advertising industries capitalize on it, are important areas of study for the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, led by Dr. Kelly Brownell. Visit the Rudd Center’s website for further information on this and related topics.
My goal is to keep Life After Cigarettes fresh, vital, and in tune with the latest scientific research, so watch my blog for periodic updates like this one.
Ending a blogging drought to wish you a happy and a healthy 2011.
Yes, it’s that time again, a time that many see as an occasion to set goals for the coming year – goals we hope will make our lives richer in some way, so that when next December 31 rolls around, we can say, “I’m a better and a happier person than I was last year at this time.”
Alas, we all know New Year’s resolutions are easier made than kept. Indeed, the very term is often the butt of jokes – for example, about fitness classes that swell in January, crowding out regulars who aren’t worried because they know there will be plenty of floor space again by February. This discouraging track record might argue against making any resolutions at all, on the grounds that the implicit “now or never” approach is destructive, and that it’s better to make no promises to yourself at all than to make promises you are likely to break.
Still, there’s something about the idea of a fresh start that appeals to many. If you’re one of them, why not think about ways to make your resolutions stickier, make them work for you rather than against you?
One important way is to make realistic resolutions. The likelihood of going from a couch potato to an athlete overnight is remote; change in measured steps – achieving subgoals and then (if necessary or desired) recalibrating after they’re reached – works better for most people.
You might also consider adopting positive rather than negative resolutions. Health behavior experts use the term “loss-framed” for the negative approach because it focuses on what you have to give up rather than the benefits that will accrue. Quintessential negative resolutions that come near the top of most lists are “quit smoking” and “avoid overeating” – just the ones you’d expect to encounter on this blog! But before you give up on these goals altogether in favor of “visit Grandma more often” or “spend more time with friends,” let’s see if they can perhaps be recast in a more positive, “gain-framed” light.
Instead of “quit smoking,” how about substituting “explore the joys of the nonsmoking lifestyle?” Revel in white teeth and fingernails unstained by nicotine, in clothing free of burns, in hair that smells of your favorite shampoo, not of stale cigarette smoke. Enjoy your increased lung capacity by taking long walks around your neighborhood or in the woods. Participate fully in each moment, savoring precious time with your spouse or friend grandchild without the nagging intrusion of thoughts about your next cigarette.
And as a positive alternative to “avoid overeating,” try “explore the pleasurable possibilities of eating just what I need to reach and maintain a realistic (that word again!) healthy weight.” In the spirit of replacing quantity of food with quality – something I’ve blogged about previously – you may wish to eat more “real” food (from a farm, not a package) and prepare more meals at home – both additional positive goals. You may also wish to introduce more flexibility in how much you can eat by adding some enjoyable physical activity to your day. Although “exercise more” is technically a positive goal, many of us do not see it in that light! But most of us, if we really try, can identify some physical activity that adds a little fun to the day; and remember that as weight decreases the pleasure of moving your body increases. Whatever the official exercise guidelines may say, any increase in exercise counts as a step in the right direction.
The hope, of course, is that these positive or gain-framed resolutions will be more likely to last beyond the end of the first week in January than their negative, loss-framed counterparts. But just in case, let’s add one more positive resolution: “Forgive yourself if you come up short and get right back on the merry-go-round.” Many goals worth achieving take more than one try.
For additional suggestions on how to reach the goal of being a nonsmoker who looks good and feels great, presented in a gain-framed manner, please check out my book Life After Cigarettes. It was written with you in mind.
Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., is currently research professor emerita in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. From 1985 to 2009 she served as director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory, where much of her research focused on the impact of smoking on women. She is the author of more than a hundred articles and book chapters on smoking and a contributor to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking.