In the study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers examined the smoking habits of about 233 students for roughly six months aged 16 to 19 from West Virginia high schools.
Oftentimes people believe that kids aren't interested in quitting and that they won't take part in an intervention, said Kimberly Horn, a professor in the department of community medicine at West Virginia School of Medicine.
Students were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one group got a single smoking cessation session; a second group got a more intensive, 10-week stop-smoking program known as Not On Tobacco (NOT); and a third received a combination of the anti-tobacco group and fitness education.
After three months, 14 percent of the teens in the group that combined counseling with physical activity had quit smoking, compared to five percent in the single-session group and 11 percent of those enrolled in NOT.
Researchers said the third group may offer teens a more effective way to stop smoking.
Physical activity, even in small or moderate doses, can greatly increase the odds of quitting. And, this type of approach attempts to change more than one behavior, Horn explained.
Slightly more than 17 percent of American teenagers are current smokers, according to the CDC.
Horn said West Virginia has the nation's worst smoking problem, with federal statistics showing that 29 percent of people under 18 smoke, compared to a national average of 20 percent.
This study offers a strong case that it is possible to effectively intervene with teen smokers, said Horn, who led the story. The findings will be published in the October issue of Pediatrics, and were released online on Sept. 19.
Teen smokers are more likely to use alcohol and illegal drugs, according to the CDC, and, about one-third of teen smokers will continue to smoke and will die in later life from a smoking-related disease.