Why Smoking & Exercise Don't Mix

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 9:10am

By Michele Silence, MA

A recent study found that smoking hampers physical fitness (even in young, fit people) and smokers seem to have lower physical endurance than nonsmokers1. Even when smokers want to get fit, the task isn’t always easy. Cigarettes push blood pressure up, increase the heart rate and make coughing and choking a real problem.

In essence, you’re poisoning your body with the cigarettes yet expect the same stressed organs to work hard during exercise. This puts a double strain on your heart, blood vessels, pulse, and blood pressure, as well as diminishes the oxygen levels in the blood.

Smoking vs. exercise

Both exercise and smoking affect the same organ systems, but in opposite ways. While smoking decreases lung capacity, exercise increases it. In addition, as smoking increases your risk of having a heart attack, exercise decreases it. And then there’s the issue of phlegm—smoking produces phlegm (which congests the lungs), while exercise breaks it up and rebuilds the lungs.

For more information on the effect of smoking when working out see the following article from TheDietChannel: Cigarettes: Will a couple per week affect your workout?

The health benefits of quitting smoking

If you’re a smoker who is ready to start exercising but not quite ready to quit smoking, think about some of the following health benefits of quitting2:

  • Within 20 minutes (of putting down a cigarette) your blood pressure and pulse read “normal."
  • Within 8 hours the oxygen level in the blood normalizes, carbon monoxide levels go down.
  • Within 24 hours your risk of heart attack starts to decline.
  • Within 2 days you can taste food and smell things better.
  • Within 3 days your lung capacity improves to the point where you can actually breathe better.
  • Within 3 months your circulation improves and your lung functioning is up by 30 percent.
  • Within 9 months your lungs are able to clean themselves again and your risk of infection goes down.
  • Within 1 year your heart disease risk is now half that of a typical smoker’s.
  • Within 5 years your risk of stoke is close to that of a non-smoker.
  • Within 10 years your lung cancer death rate is half that of smokers and your risk of other cancers goes down as well.
  • Within 15 years your heart disease risk is the same as that of a nonsmoker’s.

So, the good news is that you can start reaping health benefits the moment you take that last puff. Think about you can gain—being able to breath fully again; enjoying the taste and smells around you, having a vibrant skin tone; and having more fun with your exercise program. Once you feel the difference, you’ll wonder why you didn’t stop sooner. Do it today, it’s a choice you won’t regret.

For more information on quitting smoking and avoiding weight gain see the following article from TheDietChannel: Smoking Cessation and Weight Gain: How to Quit Smoking and Avoid Gaining Weight.

1Preventative Medicine, 1992 Nov; 21(6): p. 723-34.
2U.S. Surgeon General’s Reports 1988,1990):