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    Smoking and exercise – how one affects the other

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      Reviewed by our clinical team

      Kettle bell, weight and cigarette in ash tray

      Smoking not only hinders your ability to exercise effectively but it has also been discovered that exercise can actually help you to quit smoking.

      Here we take a look at the effects smoking has on your exercise routines and which exercises you should be considering if you want to quit smoking.

      How smoking affects exercise

      Carbon monoxide

      You need oxygen in your muscles when you exercise. The more you exercise, the faster the oxygen is used up. Cigarettes contain carbon monoxide, which reduces the amount of oxygen available in your body as it binds to the haemoglobin in your red blood cells, preventing oxygen from doing so.

      Bad blood

      The chemicals in tobacco like nicotine and carbon monoxide can harm your blood cells and vessels. They can cause and accelerate atherosclerosis –a disease in which plaque builds up in and narrows your arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body, making exercise harder.

      Effect on lungs

      Smoking decreases your lung capacity, which can cause a smaller volume of oxygen to reach the bloodstream, resulting in less oxygen getting to the blood. Smoking is in fact the single biggest cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a term covering for a number of conditions like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The chemicals damage the airways and lungs which leads to the development of this long-term condition.

      Takes your breath away

      Smoking can literally take your breath away as it can, within seconds, cause a two- to three-fold increase in airway resistance. It can also cause chronic swelling of the mucous membranes of the airways, which adds to resistance. The tar in cigarette smoke also adds to airway resistance as it coats the lungs, reduces the elasticity of the air sacs and results in the absorption of less oxygen.

      Considering quitting smoking?

      Visit our stop smoking clinic

      How exercise can help you quit


      Exercise is a great distraction from most day-to-day annoyances – the habit to light up being just one of them. Exercising while you are trying to quit can reduce the feelings of withdrawal.

      Learn about your body

      Doing some exercise while you’re still smoking can show you just how much the habit has affected you. As you cut down on your smoking, you should see an improvement in your ability to exercise. Having this kind of physical record can be a great motivator to help you quit.


      Not only is quitting is one of the most stressful things you can do but it means you’re actually removing one of your methods of coping with stress. Studies have shown that people smoke more when they are stressed. Exercise releases endorphins that help reduce your stress levels.

      Halt the weight gain

      As cigarettes are seen as an appetite suppressant, people often put on weight when they’re quitting. By taking part in some regular exercise, you can help combat this side effect to quitting.

      Find out more about stopping smoking. 

      VideoGP by LloydsPharmacy

      Authors and editors

      • Written by

        Dr Anup Jethwa
        GMC number: 7138282
        Date published: 19th Sep 2015

      • Edited and updated by

        Dr Jean Wong
        GMC number: 6132403
        Date reviewed: 1st Apr 2021

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