The medical evidence to show that smoking is terrible for your health is very well documented, but everyone know that smoking is bad. This article is all about the benefits of giving up smoking and how the physiological changes as a result can greatly improve your fitness.
Quit & Get Fit
There's a significant number of benefits to giving up smoking, in terms of improving your health and fitness, some of them are immediate and some are long-term. Many people assume that these improvements only affect endurance athletes and people focused on cardiovascular exercise. That's definitely not the case. The increased cardiovascular function and energy-levels you'll see as a result of quitting will help those looking to increase their strength, muscular endurance and overall fitness. Let's have a look at some of the physiological benefits:
- Smoking causes atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) this increases blood pressure and reduces the ability for your body to re-oxygenate the blood as effectively. By quitting, your arteries can return to normal within 3 to 9 months.
- Carbon monoxide in the blood stream reduces the body's efficiency at carrying oxygen on red blood cells. Within 48 hours of stopping smoking, carbon monoxide in the blood will be eliminated.
- The cilia in the lungs start to grow back when you quit smoking. These fine hair-like structures designed to push mucus, dust and other particles out of the lungs are crucial in keeping the lungs clean and healthy. Once they are functioning again, your lung capacity can increase and your chance of illnesses that stop you training (such as colds and respiratory illness) reduces. This means less time out from training due to illness. One perceived downside of the restored function of the cilia is that they start to clear all the years of gunk out of your lungs. Hence why many smokers develop a harsh cough for a few weeks to months after quitting. Stick with it and eventually the cough should subside (if it doesn't seek medical advice).
- On this note, the stress hormone cortisol is released in higher quantities in smokers as their bodies are more stressed. This also means your immune system is under more stress and won't perform as well, so you'll end up taking more time off training due to illness. If you quit smoking you'll get ill less frequently and be able to train harder and more often.
- Smoking causes inflammation to the lungs and respiratory passageways. When you quit, this inflammation reduces and in-turn there's more space in the lungs, so your lung capacity can increase.
- Blood pressure will return to lower levels within 2 to 12 weeks, this increases your capacity for higher intensity training, allowing you to push yourself harder.
Health Restoration Timeline
Here's a quick breakdown into how quickly various elements of your health will improve after you take that last drag:
After 20 minutes - Your resting heart rate will return to normal
After 8 hours - Nicotine and Carbon monoxide levels in the bloodstream are halved and oxygen levels return to normal.
After 48 hours - Your blood carbon monoxide is gone and cilia start working again to clear out smoking debris and mucus, this is when the coughing may start. You may also notice your taste and smell are improving.
After 72 hours - Breathing will become easier as respiratory inflammation reduces and bronchial tubes start to relax. You may notice increased energy levels.
After 2 to 12 weeks - Your circulatory system will start to improve its function and you'll see fitness levels improve, especially if you're exercising regularly.
After 3 to 9 months - You should find that breathing problems such as coughs and wheezing improve as lung function increases by up to 10%.
After 1 year - Your risk of heart disease will be roughly halved compared to if you had continued to smoke.
After 10 years - Your risk of lung cancer will be roughly half compared to your smoking self.
After 15 years - Your risk of heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked.
Get Fit & Quit
You could assume that you have to quit smoking in order to get fit, however for some the act of starting exercise or improving their fitness by exercising more often, is what triggers their internal motivation to quit smoking. If you're not ready to quit smoking just yet, but are thinking about starting exercise, then don't let your smoking habit stop you. Start exercising today and there's a very high probability that you'll actually start wanting to quit, which is often half the battle.
You also have physiology in your corner here. A study in the 80's showed that exercise can suppress the desire for nicotine. Participants who went without cigarettes for 15 hours and then were given 10 minutes of moderate exercise, had a lower craving for nicotine compared to those who didn't exercise.
The theory that exercise can promote healthy lifestyle changes is very much true. Not only will you be more likely to quit smoking, but you'll also more likely to improve your diet, drink more water and your sleep will improve as you'll be physically more tired from workouts. Especially if you're planning on making weight-training part of your plans.
Bonus Benefits of Quitting Smoking
Aside from the fitness benefits we've discussed above, we thought we'd also leave you with this list of additional benefits that you'll experience when you become part of the non-smokers club:
Save lots of money - Depending on your consumption you could save thousands a year. Based on a pack of 20 costing £10 if you averaged 10 cigarettes a day, then by quitting you'll save £150 a month, that's £1,825 a year! This doesn't even count the savings on life insurance and dental work.
Improved breath and gum health - Smoking is notorious for bad breath and that's never a good thing.
Whiter teeth - You may need to get them whitened, depending on how long you've been smoking, but there'll be no further yellowing from nicotine.
Lower cortisol levels - Therefore you'll feel less stressed.
Increased sex drive - Need we say more, your loved one will be happier!
Greatly increased fertility - If you're trying for a baby then this will make a big difference and if you're already pregnant, then your baby's health will be far greater.
- You'll lower your risk of several cancers.
- You'll lower your risk of heart disease.
- Your skin will improve.
- Those around you won't have to consume your second-hand smoke.
So in summary there's never a better time to stop smoking than right now! At least trying, tells your subconscious mind that you want to quit and this can often be the start of the journey to becoming a non-smoker. Again if you're a smoker and are looking to start exercising or weight training, then don't wait until you've quit. Take the first step into a healthier life and just start exercising today. If you're a heavy or long-term smoker, then it's wise to have a quick chat with your doctor first to make sure it's safe.
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