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    Smoking and exercise – how one affects the other

    On this page
    1. How smoking affects exercise
    2. How exercise can help you quit

    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.

    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. 

    Find the right stop smoking treatment for you
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