By PT Staff, published on September 1, 1995 - last reviewed on June 19, 2012
Smokers have a tough time kicking t.he habit—and it s not just cigarettes.They are also reluctant to give up other unhealthy acts.
University of Rhode Island researchers studied the readiness of 19,000 smokers, ex-smokers, and non-smokers to begin practicing 10 healthful behaviors. Smokers proved the least willing to wear seat belts, cut fat intake, exercise, eat more fiber, watch their weight, stay out of the sun, and use sunscreen.
People who had never smoked were most receptive to change, with ex-smokers usually falling in between. Only three behaviors—getting a Pap smear, going for a mammogram, and checking home radon levels—were unaffected by smoking status.
Health psychologists have been searching for a "gateway behavior"—a health-promoting practice that, once adopted, would lead folks to begin other healthy habits. "A lot of people think exercise might be that behavior," notes Joseph S. Rossi,Ph.D., research director at Rhode Island's Cancer Prevention Research Center. But giving up smoking may be an even better candidate, he told the Society of Behavioral Medicine.
Why does tobacco use coincide with so many other unhealthy practices? Perhaps cigarettes are so harmful that smokers consider it pointless to take up jogging or eat more broccoli, says Rossi. On the other hand, he admits that it's hard to see why they wouldn't want to buckle up.