December 18, 2018

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Opinion

One stride at a time

Run to Quit program aims to replace a bad habit with a good one

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2017 (623 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Jeff Rodgers figures he was in junior high when he and a buddy first started sneaking cigarettes. They didn’t think it would be a problem. They were in control.

Over the following 12 to 13 years, Rodgers tried to quit smoking not once or twice, but 17 times. It was the birth of his oldest daughter that gave him the push he needed to quit for good.

That baby is 21 now, which means Rodgers, 46, has been smoke-free for two decades. “It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he says. “I’d rather run an ultra-marathon with no shoes or socks than quit smoking.”

In case it wasn’t obvious from the marathon reference, Rodgers is a runner. He’s also a clinic leader for the Run to Quit program, an innovative partnership between the Running Room and the Canadian Cancer Society, with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. The program debuted in select cities last year, and is launching in Winnipeg in April. The idea behind it is straightforward: swap an unhealthy habit for a healthy one.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2017 (623 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Jeff Rodgers figures he was in junior high when he and a buddy first started sneaking cigarettes. They didn’t think it would be a problem. They were in control.

Over the following 12 to 13 years, Rodgers tried to quit smoking not once or twice, but 17 times. It was the birth of his oldest daughter that gave him the push he needed to quit for good.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Jeff Rodgers tried and failed quitting smoking 17 times. He now coaches for Run to Quit, an initiative that encourages smokers to butt out by taking up a new habit — running.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jeff Rodgers tried and failed quitting smoking 17 times. He now coaches for Run to Quit, an initiative that encourages smokers to butt out by taking up a new habit — running.

That baby is 21 now, which means Rodgers, 46, has been smoke-free for two decades. "It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done," he says. "I’d rather run an ultra-marathon with no shoes or socks than quit smoking."

In case it wasn’t obvious from the marathon reference, Rodgers is a runner. He’s also a clinic leader for the Run to Quit program, an innovative partnership between the Running Room and the Canadian Cancer Society, with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. The program debuted in select cities last year, and is launching in Winnipeg in April. The idea behind it is straightforward: swap an unhealthy habit for a healthy one.

Participants will embark on a 10-week group exercise program that will see them train to run five kilometres while also receiving support and counselling to quit smoking.

There are two ways to participate in Run to Quit, via in-store training or virtual training. New to exercise? That’s OK; the program is open to all fitness levels. Not a runner? That’s OK, too. Walkers are welcome. The virtual program, which costs $49.99, begins April 17. The in-store program, which costs $69.99, begins April 24 at Running Room Kenaston, 1875 Grant Ave. There is no cap on the number of participants.

Run to Quit has seen some successes so far. Researchers at the University of British Columbia is studying Run to Quit over three years to assess its potential as a chronic disease prevention program. The early numbers are encouraging: of the 83 participants interviewed six months after the 10-week program concluded, 40 per cent reported quitting smoking, and 28 per cent said they were successful at not smoking for six months.

For comparison’s sake, the cold-turkey quit rate hovers at about two to four per cent.

Kyra Moshtaghi Nia, program co-ordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society, Manitoba Division, was pleasantly surprised by another number from the UBC’s survey of participants: 43 per cent had committed to running three times a week.

"That part is really great because it shows they are sticking with it," she says. A reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure — as well as decreased stress and curbed cravings — are just a few of the well-documented benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise.

She also says that Run to Quit’s buddy system goes a long way in keeping participants motivated. "It’s a group of people with the same goal," she says.

As well, it’s important that participants feel understood and supported, which is why many of the clinic leaders are former smokers. It’s been 20 years since he quit, but Rodgers keenly remembers what that experience was like. "I know the struggle they’re going to face," he says. "I’m here to help."

Rodgers says asking for that help is one of the strongest things a person can do. "And it took a lot of help," he says of his own experience. "Doctors, co-workers — I had a co-worker who would remind me on a daily basis that if I went for a cigarette I might not see my daughter grow up."

Rodgers didn’t immediately take up running when he quit smoking; that would come later. At first, he made a series of lifestyle changes; the morning coffee had to go, and so did happy hour. "All those little psychological triggers that say, ‘Hey, you know what would go really good with this beer right now?’"

Rodgers successfully kicked his habit, but the long road to good health was still winding in front of him. While he was smoke-free, he was also 100 pounds heavier. He had two herniated discs in lower back, and low lung capacity. "I couldn’t walk a block without gasping for air," he says.

Eventually, he took up running with a program called Team Diabetes to get into shape. "I figured that if it had been there when I quit smoking, I never would have gained all the weight and would have been healthier," he says.

Rodgers has since completed five full marathons and 31 half-marathons. He credits the support of the running community with keeping him on track, and he’s eager to help Run to Quit participants meet their goals. "There’s a sense of accomplishment and confidence that comes from being able to turn around and say, ‘I just ran a mile,’" he says. "After years of being a smoker, you look back and say, ‘Wow, six weeks ago I couldn’t do that.’"

What can be harder than actually running a mile is quieting the voice in your head that says you can’t do it.

"Yes, you can," Rodgers says.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 8:24 AM CDT: Adds photo

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