Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things people will do even though the evidence is clear that smoking is terrible for your health. About one third of the adult population around the world smokes – among them you’ll also find some who regularly work out. Approximately 5 million people worldwide die from the consequences of smoking each year.
Quitting smoking brings huge health benefits and is one of the biggest changes people can make in their lives to get healthy. Running can play an integral role in helping people quit smoking.
Keep reading to learn about the health risks of smoking, why smoking is bad for running, and how running can help people quit.
Table of Contents
Risks of Smoking and Smokers Lungs
Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,800 chemical compounds, 250 of which are harmful to your health. Nicotine is only one of thousands of agents contained in cigarette smoke. The main alkaloid of the tobacco plant is responsible for the addiction cigarettes create. Nicotine both stimulates and calms the central nervous system. When absorbed in the form of cigarette smoke, it takes only 10 seconds for the nicotine to get from the alveoli, or your oral mucosa, into your blood and to the brain. Plus, many of the ingredients of a cigarette react with our genetic material, which can lead to alterations and mutations.
It’s common knowledge that smoking poses a high risk to our health. High blood pressure, artriosclerosis, strokes, cancer, altered blood fat values and an increased risk for thrombosis are just a few of the long-term consequences of smoking. Moreover, smokers suffer from an acute impact on their cardiovascular system. The coronary blood vessels have a reduced diameter, while a smoker’s average heart rate is elevated.
The cardiovascular system is the biggest contributor to running performance. Elevated heart rate while running is a further indicator of unhealthy habits. Smokers’ lungs—that feeling of coughing up the insides of your lungs after what should be an easy run—is also a side effect of smoking.
Careful with second-hand smoke!
When in a room with smokers, you automatically (passively) smoke with them. The second-hand smoke you inhale contains the same toxic chemical compounds that can cause cancer. So, also passive smoke can make you sick. Second-hand smoke increases the risk for lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases by up to 30%.
Even Occasional Smoking Poses Health Risks
Epidemiological studies indicate that there is no limit below which smoking does not pose a risk to your health. Even the occasional smoke can have serious consequences for your health.[1, 2]
Smoking and Running Affects Running Performance
Runners who smoke can improve their performance with training, but not as effectively as non-smoking runners. Studies suggest that smoking has negative consequences on your fitness performance, as the carbon monoxide content of your blood increases when smoking. Carbon monoxide bonds 300 times easier with hemoglobin than oxygen and, therefore, interferes with oxygen transport in your body. When part of your body’s hemoglobin is occupied transporting carbon monoxide, less oxygen can be transported. Non-smokers show a carbon monoxide hemoglobin content of between 0.5 and 2%, whereas the same value increases to 5-10% in smokers.
For endurance sports like running, oxygen transport and supply are decisive. Do without a cigarette before your run and you’re all set? Nope, not enough. Oxygen transport is altered for up to 24 hours after smoking a cigarette, as the nicotine contained hampers the regulation of your blood vessels as well as your lung function. The vessels constrict and less blood passes through.
Bottom line: Smoking and running don’t mix. If you’re serious about running or even just getting healthy, quitting smoking is the fastest way to better performance and health!
Change your lifestyle to live longer
Alcohol, an unbalanced diet, lack of exercise and smoking have an impact on life expectancy. Researchers from the University of Zurich found that a healthy lifestyle keeps us ten years younger. Smoking does not only cost money, but also several years of your life!
Stop smoking, start running!
Smoking quickly turns into an addiction that accompanies you in your everyday life. Oftentimes, smoking turns into a social event, too – a quick break with your colleagues and a cigarette in your hand, or the one that accompanies your after-work drink. Plus, many cigarettes are lit to relieve stress. Still, “quit smoking” and “more exercise” are found on many to do lists. Why not both? According to a study, sports can help you quit smoking! People who stuck to a fitness routine were less likely to relapse when trying to stop smoking than those who weren’t active. Regular physical activity improves your mood and is relaxing. Just 10 minutes of exercise helps withdrawal systems from quitting smoking.
How to Quit Smoking and Start Running
1. Preparation is key!
Restlessness, irritability and discomfort – that’s just a few withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking. Also increased appetite and thirst can manifest over the first few days, so make sure you keep healthy snacks, teas, chewing gum and water at hand. After about ten days, the symptoms should fade.
2. A balanced diet
Smoking accelerates your metabolism – snacks low in calories help avoid extra pounds. A balanced diet including lots of fruits and veggies is ideal.
3. Celebrate your successes
Be proud of your decision to stop smoking! Go get yourself a treat every now and then – with the money you DON’T spend on cigarettes anymore.
4. Fix a date!
A concrete date can help you quit smoking. Birthdays or the beginning of a new year might give your decision more weight. Make sure to choose a stress-free period, though, to prevent slipping back into old, stress-induced behavioral patterns.
5. Substitute rituals
Create new rituals for situations in which you used to smoke, e.g. coffee break after lunch. Plus, it helps to actively avoid those places and situations you link to smoking.
6. Schedule exercise
Highlight times of your day where you will want to smoke. Schedule exercise for those times and stick to it. This will replace a bad smoking habit with a healthy exercise habit.