Why smoking, exercise don’t mix

Three kayakers paddled 10 kilometers through heavy seas from one island to another. The first kayaker said, “I paddled it in two hours.” The second kayaker said, “I paddled it in one and a half hours because I had a wind at my back.” The third kayaker said, “I paddled it in 30 minutes.” The first and second kayaker asked the third kayaker, “How ever did you do that. That’s amazing.” The third kayaker replied, “Because I had run out of cigarettes.”

Is it just me or is smoking becoming an “in” thing again? I have noticed that many of the millennials are smoking cigarettes, the electronic version or otherwise, or even nastier big, fat, stinky cigars. What in the world? I was at one of my favorite watering holes the other night on my Harley. I sat at a table to listen to music and I was the only one without a cigarette in my mouth.

I saw my father die a slow, painful death from lung cancer and COPD so I have been and always will be a militant non-smoker and, fortunately, all three of my girls have no interest either.

While the above story is just for laughs, it is sadly not too far from the truth. You would be amazed at how many people who love to exercise also love to smoke. When I was still working at the fitness center, I caught a glimpse of this daily through my office window. Many of the members smoked on the way into the gym, lit one on the way out and even took smoke breaks during their workout. Talk about walking contradictions. The very reason we exercise is to become healthier and more fit. Continuing to smoke makes working out an exercise in futility.

Every day we hear about the harmful effects of smoking but what about if you are both an avid exerciser and smoker? The simple answer is that smoking and exercise don’t mix at all. Both exercise and smoking effect the same organ systems but in totally opposite ways. Smoking decreases lung capacity, exercise increases it. Smoking increases your risk of heart attack, exercise decreases it. Smoking causes damage to the lung tissue and exercise actually helps strengthen and rebuild the lungs. For example, a smoker who works out 40 minutes on a treadmill will reap no benefits from the workout at all. Furthermore, it is very harmful. Studies show that smoking hampers physical fitness even in young people and that smokers have lower physical endurance than non-smokers. Cigarettes increase blood pressure and heart rate and make breathing much more difficult. If you are a smoker, you are sabotaging your workout by putting too much strain on organs that are being damaged from the smoking.

The good news is that if you can put down the cigarettes and hold onto your workout gear, your fitness level will improve dramatically. In addition, you will reap the following benefits almost immediately:

— Within 20 minutes (of putting down a cigarette) your blood pressure and heart rate will return to normal.

— Within 24 hours, your risk of heart attack starts to decline.

— Within two days, you can taste and smell things better.

— Within three days, your lung capacity improves to the point where you can actually breathe better.

The great thing about exercising is that it can also help you quit smoking. In a study cited on the Cochorane Tobacco Addiction Group Register, participants who quit smoking and maintained an exercise program had nearly a 50 percent higher abstinence rate than non-exercisers. The theory being that the endorphins released during exercise help to moderate nicotine withdrawal and cravings.

The bottom line is that if you want to get the most of your exercise program, you need to leave the cigarettes behind. Once you quit, you will feel better and really reap the benefits of your workout program. If you need help or information on quitting, contact your healthcare provider or visit the American Cancer Society Website at The NC Quit Line, 800-784-8669, also offers free assistance.


Kathy Hansen

Contributing columnist

Kathy Hansen has more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field. She can be reached via e-mail at