The major cause of death in smokers is coronary heart disease, with rates for heavy smokers about three times greater than in
non-smokers. Smokers with high blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels have coronary heart disease death rates that are
about 20 times greater than non-smokers with normal blood pressure and cholesterol.
Does smoking affect how hard I can exercise?
Yes. Smoking and sports simply do not mix. Studies have repeatedly shown that smoking decreases the ability to engage in vigorous and
intense exercise. Smokers are less likely than non-smokers to make regular exercise a part of their lives because exercise is more difficult.
Studies have shown that smoking decreases the ability to perform vigorous exercise because of increased levels of carbon monoxide in the body,
decreased lung function and a drop in the ability to use oxygen.
Carbon monoxide is present in large amounts in cigarette smoke and rapidly enters the blood, combining with haemoglobin in the
red blood cells. The role of haemoglobin is to transport oxygen to the muscles and cells of the body. When carbon monoxide is present,
about five percent of the haemoglobin is “taken over” for about five hours, decreasing the ability to deliver oxygen. This will make
physical activity more difficult than normal.
At rest, nicotine increases the heart rate and blood pressure, decreases cardiac output (amount of blood pumped by the heart), and
increases the oxygen demand of the heart muscle. During exercise, nicotine also increases levels of blood lactate, a substance that
can make people feel fatigued.
Resistance to air flow in the airways is increased, both during and after smoking, making it more difficult to deliver air and
oxygen to the lungs during hard exercise.
Despite these difficulties, physical activity remains beneficial for smokers. In addition, efforts to exercise are likely to
heighten the motivation to quit the habit.
What benefits can be expected from exercising while giving up smoking?
Most doctors feel that regular exercise is particularly important for people quitting smoking. Before starting an exercise regime,
smokers should consult a doctor to ensure that a safe exercise program can be started and maintained. The main benefits of such a program include:
- Improvement in physical fitness. Smokers typically have poor levels of fitness, and starting a regular exercise program will improve heart and lung function, as well as increasing muscular strength and endurance
- Countering weight gain. Burning calories in a regular exercise program can help the person avoid the dreaded post-smoking tendency to gain weight
- Reduced risk of smoking-related diseases. Maintaining a regular exercise program can decrease the risk of developing certain conditions, including heart disease and some cancers
- Stress management. Many people use smoking as a means of coping with stress and find the habit quite relaxing. Within two hours of quitting smoking, typical feelings of nicotine withdrawal include irritability, frustration, impatience, restlessness, depression, mood swings, difficulty in concentrating and disrupted sleep. These feelings peak within the first 24 hours and then gradually decline, usually subsiding after about four weeks.
Regular exercise acts as an excellent substitute for smoking by improving psychological mood state and alleviating anxiety and depression.
For smokers who cant or don’t want to quit, regular exercise is still encouraged as a way to help reduce the risk of heart disease and early death.
Research has shown that smokers who maintain a high level of physical fitness have lower death rates from all causes than do unfit non-smokers. The
lowest death rates, however, are found among people who avoid smoking altogether and maintain moderate to high physical fitness levels.