Last week saw World No Tobacco Day 2016, with its big push on plain-packaged cigarettes. The initiative is part of a global push to reduce smoking levels. But why are the authorities so concerned about smoking, and should you be too? Let’s start with the obvious... smoking is bad for you! We all know it, it’s not a secret, yet every day I bet we all see people walking down the street with a cigarette. Unfortunately, for many people smoking is a very social activity and something it’s very difficult to stop. In the spirit of No Tobacco Day, I want to throw out some information and ideas on the negative effects of tobacco and smoking in general, and also look at how it can impact your exercise - after all I am a personal trainer, and if you weren’t interested in fitness you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post! I also want to look at what measures you can take to try and stop smoking, as well as what materials are available to help you tackle it.
Enough of the smoke and mirrors
I’ve never been one to “sugar coat” anything so let’s start by quickly highlighting the risk you are taking by choosing to smoke. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that half of the people who use tobacco die as a result of this, which means tobacco could be causing around 5 million deaths each year, or around 10 per cent of world deaths. In addition, there are approximate 600,000 deaths of non-smokers due to second-hand smoke every year. Smoking also increases your risk of all kinds of cancer, including the lungs, mouth, larynx, pancreas, kidney, stomach and bladder, and also affects your fertility (Dechanet et al. 2011). In women, research shows that smoking is harmful to the ovaries, while for men it can cause importance due to the arterial narrowing it causes (Kenderci et al. 2005).
Overall, each cigarette you smoke could take 11 seconds of your life.
Impacts on fitness
Alright, so now you know about all the bad effects that smoking could have on your general health, but how will it affect all of your hard work in the gym . . . Well for one thing, smoking increases carbon dioxide levels in the blood, and reduces oxygen. Your body needs oxygen for your muscles to be able to grow, repair and absorb nutrients. This is a pretty fundamental part of recovery from a good training session. If your muscles can’t grow and repair properly, then you’re cheating yourself out of your hard work. As well as this, shortness of breath, increased phlegm, coughing, and the inability to cope with sudden exertion are all things that will make your journey into health and fitness much more difficult!
Even if you’re young and fit, and train often, it’s unlikely you’ll escape all the negative side effects of smoking. One study looked at the effects of physical fitness among 3,045 Navy personnel and found that smoking was associated with lower exercise levels and lower physical endurance, both cardio and muscular (Conway et. al.1992). Even after differences in the exercise levels of smokers and the non-smokers were taken into account, the smokers fared worse in the tests. If you’re looking to improve your general health and physical fitness, smoking should be one of the first things you drop.
Don’t drag it out
So now you know what you're doing to yourself, what’s the best way to go about stopping? Going “cold turkey” is the most common choice for people who want to kick the habit. Decide you’ve had enough, throw away all your cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays. Tell your friends and your family as well, everything is easier with a bit of help!
Alternatively, you could look at nicotine replacement by using items such as patches, gum or inhalers. These will help you cope with the cravings. Maybe seek some professional advice to look into the reasons why you smoke. What triggers you to light up a cigarette? What can you do to limit these triggers.
Whatever you think will work for you, why not make a start this “World No Tobacco Day?” Remember that the first few days will be the toughest. Try to distract yourself as much as possible during this time, keep your hands busy and your mind occupied. When you get a craving, just think about delaying acting on it as the feeling will pass and reward yourself with the things you enjoy when you do manage to fight the cravings! It isn’t easy but it does get easier.
For more information on giving up smoking, visit the NHS Smokefree site.