WEDNESDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Would-be ex-smokers may want to try weight lifting to help them kick the habit for good, a new study suggests.

The researchers found that three months of pumping iron seemed to help curb cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms, while lessening the weight gain that sometimes accompanies quitting.

Overall, men and women who completed the resistance training program were twice as likely to kick the habit as smokers who didn't lift weights.

"Cigarette smoking kills more than a thousand Americans every day, and while the large majority of smokers want to quit, less than 5 percent are able to do it without help," the study's lead author, Joseph Ciccolo, an exercise psychologist with the Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, in Providence, said in a news release from the Lifespan health system.

"We need any new tools that can help smokers successfully quit and it appears resistance training could potentially be an effective strategy," he added.

In the study, which was funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Ciccolo's team recruited 25 male and female smokers between the ages of 18 and 65 who had smoked at least five cigarettes per day for the past year or more.

All of the participants were counseled on quitting smoking for 15 to 20 minutes and given an eight-week supply of the nicotine patch, before being randomized into two groups, the authors noted.

The first group of smokers was asked to complete two one-hour full-body resistance training sessions involving 10 exercises each week for 12 weeks. The intensity of the training program was also increased every three weeks.

Meanwhile, the second group of smokers ("controls") simply watched a brief health and wellness video twice a week.

After completing the 12-week regimen, 16 percent of smokers in the weight-lifting group had successfully quit smoking, according to the study published in the August issue of the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. As an added bonus, they had also lost body weight and body fat.

In contrast, only 8 percent of the smokers in the control group had quit, and they had also gained both weight and body fat, the results showed.

Three months later, 15 percent of those in the weight-lifting group had still not started smoking again, compared to 8 percent of the control group.

However, despite "promising" results, the study authors noted that more research is needed on resistance training before it can be considered a clinical treatment for smoking cessation.

More information

The American Cancer Society provides more information on quitting smoking.