As far as nasty habits go, smoking is diabolical. It not only shortens your life, but it affects how food tastes, dictates your daily schedule, and interferes with your ability to breathe. Yet, even with all the negative aspects, it’s a hard habit to break. Healthline reports that it takes an average of 2.7 tries for a person to quit smoking for good.
One of the things that makes it so difficult to quit is that there is no one perfect method to stop smoking. Some people can go cold-turkey. Others have successfully quit using nicotine patches or gum. It gets discouraging to go through trial and error looking for the approach that will work for you. If you’ve already taken 2.7 stabs (or more) at quitting and haven’t been successful, there’s one more thing you can try.
Exercise Makes Quitting Easier
Withdrawal symptoms smokers experience and the craving for nicotine are usually the smoker’s downfall. The craving will start nagging at you within hours. Then, in about a day or two, you’ll start to experience physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Smokers trying to quit also report feeling depressed, anxious, and irritable.
That’s when you could use a good workout. You might not feel like putting on your sweats and getting physical, but a study conducted at the University of St. George’s London found that exercise provides a sort of protective effect against nicotine withdrawal horrors. One notable effect was that physical activity activated a receptor in the brain that nicotine typically targets. In general, workouts reduced withdrawal severity, making it easier for quitters to stay off the cancer sticks.
Oh, and the really, really good news? It doesn’t take a super-vigorous workout to affect symptom severity. The study found that even moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk or short bike ride, was enough to keep withdrawal manageable.
When Should You Start?
There’s no better time than now to get moving and give up smoking. No matter how long you’ve smoked, you likely feel the effects in the form of reduced lung capacity and stamina. The good news is that once you no longer smoke, your body starts healing immediately. WebMD reports that after only 20 minutes, your blood pressure, pulse, and circulation begin returning to normal. After 8 hours, the carbon monoxide and nicotine levels in your blood will be down to half. That also means your oxygen levels will be up and your heart won’t have to work as hard. Within 3 days, your lungs will begin recovering, so it will be easier to breathe—and it will just keep getting easier.
The point is, you should start working out the same day you give up smoking. Your body will be on board right away. It will continue to improve the longer you stay smoke-free, and the exercise will help. Naturally, you should always consult your doctor before starting any workout program, even if you aren’t a smoker. If you do smoke and want to exercise as part of your quitting strategy, your doctor will help you formulate a plan that will give your body the breathing space it needs, so to speak, so that you don’t overdo it too soon and undermine your health along with your goal.
One last thing: if your argument against using exercise to quit smoking is that you can’t afford to join a gym, that’s a lame cop-out. First, there are a million ways you can workout for free, from jogging in the park to performing bodyweight exercises in your living room. However, there are a gajillion things you’ll be able to afford once you give up smoking. According to smokefree.org, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day costs about $9,200/year. That will more than pay for a gym membership complete with a personal trainer, and you’ll even have an impressive chunk of change left over.