A heavy smoker for 30 years, Gloria Reid decided she would try something new.
She saw an ad in one of the Halifax newspapers for a new program that would teach smokers how to run. Immediately, she signed up, thinking it would be an innovative way to help kick the nasty habit.
“Oh yeah,” Reid says. “I thought this was a neat way to quit [smoking].”
The learn-to-run-for-smokers program, started by the Lung Association of Nova Scotia, is the first of its kind in Canada. Twenty-two smokers signed up for the free nine-week course, leading up to a 5K race in August — the third annual Credit Union Atlantic Lung Run in Halifax. Eighteen of them finished the run — some walked, some ran, others did a combination of running and walking.
“It’s important for society to continue looking for different approaches to help people quit smoking,” says Louis Brill, president and CEO of the Lung Association of Nova Scotia.
It’s a learn-to-run program, rather than a traditional smoking cessation workshop. The focus isn’t on quitting smoking, although that is the ultimate goal, he says.
Reid has always wanted to run, but she quickly realized that it was her poor lung capacity — caused by decades of smoking — that continued to hold her back. “By the fourth week of the program, it became clear that I was going to have to quit in order to improve my running,” she says.
Reid finished the 5K Lung Run on Aug. 9, along with 17 other smokers as part of ‘Team Kick Butts.’ “I still don’t consider myself a runner,” she says. “But I’m not a smoker anymore.”
Although it isn’t billed as a smoking cessation program, it has been more effective than hypnosis, acupuncture, nicotine alternatives and medication, Reid says. She estimates that she shelled out about $3,000 for those stop-smoking initiatives, compared to the free running clinic offered by the Lung Association.
“With running, it’s the easiest way I’ve quit.”
It’s exactly how Brill drew it up, when he first came up with the idea of teaching smokers how to run.
“Obviously smoking is one of the greatest health issues that we have control over. But rather than treat smokers as the lepers of society, I thought we should treat them as customers,” he says.
The participants in the program responded well to that approach.
“He was respectful and not at all condescending or judgmental,” Reid says of Brill. “We don’t want to be preached at.”
Brill was careful not even to mention the subject of quitting smoking, until one of the participants raised the issue. “We’re not against the smoker, we’re against the ills of tobacco,” he says.
The running clinic provided the stimulus for many of the smokers to initiate the change themselves. Everybody realized that their fitness and quality of life would improve if they cut back or quit altogether, Brill says.
Now that she has quit, Reid, 50, has no doubt she’s enjoying life more. “I sleep better, I breathe better. Just yesterday, I went kayaking and lifted the kayak in and out of the water. Six months ago, there’s no way I could have done that.”
Although the Lung Run is over, Reid still runs each week with some of her new friends from the program, and Brill continues to coach. “I really want to get to the point where I can run a full 5K without having to walk,” Reid says. “It might take a year, but I’m going to do it.”
Reid is undoubtedly the star pupil of the group, but according to Brill, there are similar success stories from the 18 people that completed the nine-week running program.
Researchers in Halifax are now compiling data from the learn-to-run-for-smokers program to quantify its success. Already there has been interest from other Lung Associations in Atlantic Canada and chronic illness prevention groups across the country, Brill says.
It’s a no-brainer, Reid says. “I think he’s probably onto something.”