There are no butts about it—smoking and exercise go together like oil and water. And yet, one of the biggest secrets in the fitness industry today is that many avid gym-goers have a steady tobacco habit.
What would drive someone in pursuit of an active lifestyle to simultaneously pursue a habit that has been proven to be detrimental to their health? For many, the obvious reasons why people regularly exercise—to boost energy, sharpen focus, lose weight—are the same things that drive them to smoke, including curbing appetite and regaining focus. And yet, smoking holds their workouts hostage by hindering their ability to have a more efficient workout and improve muscle strength, effectively keeping them from being the healthiest version of themselves.
Despite school education programs and anti-smoking campaigns, not all smokers are aware of the damaging effects that smoking can have on the body—even if they are dedicated exercisers. And, if they are aware, the prospect of quitting completely can seem daunting, no matter how passionate they are about their health goals. Not only are there withdrawal symptoms—irritability, dizziness, headaches—from the sudden decrease in nicotine in the bloodstream, but there's also no guarantee that their first attempt at quitting will be successful. In fact, studies estimate the average number of times a smoker tries to quit ranges anywhere between five and 30 attempts.
But with less oxygen delivered to the body's cells, heart and lungs as a result of carbon monoxide intake, exercisers who smoke and want to excel in their pursuit of health must consider taking on the challenge of quitting. When we exercise, our heart, lungs and muscles need oxygen-rich blood to function more efficiently. However, when smokers inhale the approximately 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes, oxygen gets displaced, effectively reducing a smoker's physical endurance and causing them to experience shortness of breath. Plus, smokers are nearly twice as likely to suffer an injury than nonsmokers, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Be a Quitter
If you can quit, it's the single most important thing you can do for your health! If the task feels overwhelming or confusing, you can increase your chances of quitting cigarettes successfully by creating a "Quit Plan." According to Angela Testa, a Spark360 tobacco treatment specialist, your "Quit Plan" should consist of six important steps:
Set a "Quit Date"
Identify your reasons for quitting and write them down. Ask yourself, "Why is important for you to quit? What is your motivation for quitting?" Whether it's better health, saving money or more energy, these reasons will help you push through the cravings when you face bad days.
Identify your smoking triggers (drinking coffee/alcohol, driving in the car, social events)
Manage your triggers and cravings by creating new routines in place of your smoking habit. For example, if you smoke a cigarette when you first get out of bed, try replacing that habit with getting out of bed and going for a short walk or reading. Consider of nicotine replacement products (patch, gum, lozenge) or pharmacological (Chantix, Wellbutrin).
Get social support. Tell friends, co-workers and family members that you are quitting and the date you plan to quit. Ask for their help and support in keeping you accountable.
Understand that lapses happen, and have a plan to get right back on track after a setback. Know that setbacks can help you learn and even improve your chances of quitting on your next quit attempt.
While quitting smoking is one of the most difficult things to do, it can save your life. Quitting today can mean lowering your risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease and lung disease over time, and the benefits to your body start in as little as one hour.
When you're ready to take the leap and start making health your number one priority, remember that exercise can be a critical part of your long-term plan. When strong cravings strike, strike back with exercise, which can distract you by keeping your brain and hands busy until the craving passes. Run on the treadmill, go for a stroll or do 10, 15 or 50 pushups—anything you can do to stay occupied will work! Even short bouts of physical activity can help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce stress. Plus, when you stop smoking, you'll quickly notice improved athletic performance as your heart rate decreases and lung function improves.
We all know smoking is not good for us and that quitting is the best thing we can do for our health. For those regular exercisers who smoke and wish to propel their fitness level and achieve optimal health status, perhaps now is the best time to become tobacco-free!