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4 November 2021

How to get fit after smoking?

Taking the first steps…

Believe it or not but the hardest step towards getting fit after quitting smoking has already been taken – giving up smoking! It’s not easy stopping an addiction or a habit but the benefits that occur after quitting allows the body to start the healing process.

Smoking Fitness

It’s been shown that within one hour of quitting the heart rate starts to drop and return to normal. In twelve hours, the body’s oxygen levels increase as there is less carbon monoxide being inhaled. In one day, blood pressure starts to drop – decreasing the risk of heart disease. After one month, circulation starts to improve, and the lungs slowly begin to heal and regenerate. In this blog, we will explain the next steps to take to help maintain a sustainable healthy lifestyle after quitting smoking.

snapping smoking

How can I improve my lung health after smoking?

The most important factor that needs to be considered when improving lung health includes activity and exercise. Exercises that specifically include working the cardiovascular muscles. This includes anything from running on a treadmill, using the cross-trainer, rowing, swimming or using an upright bike to name a few.  The main purpose of this is to supply the lungs with oxygen and slowly increase your lung capacity. Your lungs are self-cleaning and have the ability to heal themselves. As you train, your muscle demands blood and oxygen to operate. Over time the longer the duration of exercise or the increase of intensity creates changes in your lungs to cope with the stress of the exercise thus increasing your lung volume (how much oxygen can be inhaled in one breath). This reduces stress on your vital organs, causing them to work more efficiently decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

How often should I exercise after quitting smoking?

While smoking, the lungs over time get inflamed, damaged and weak. Therefore, it only makes sense that the lungs take time to get strong, efficient and healthy. While training this means that moderate exercise is advised. Moderate cardiovascular exercise is defined by the American College of Sports Medicine as exercise at less than 70% of your age-predicted maximal heart rate (220 – age x 0.7). You should be able to maintain this level of exercise without undue fatigue and should be able to maintain a conversation while exercising at this level. Also, you should not lift more weight than you could comfortably lift for at least 15 repetitions with good form. This allows your body to handle the stress while exercising and limits the risk of an incident occurring such as cardiovascular disease.

In terms of duration and frequency, a good starting point is thirty minutes, three to five days per week at a moderate intensity. This involves anything from going to the gym, a brisk walk / light jog, swimming, playing sports or an active hobby. After two to three weeks you can increase the duration to forty five minutes or add one or two more days. This will give enough time for your body, especially your cardiovascular muscles and organs to adapt to the new workload. Patience and consistency are key, the 21/90 rule states that it takes up to 21 days to build or break a habit and 90 days to turn it into a lifestyle.

woman exercising

Exercises for smokers’ lungs

As mentioned above cardiovascular exercises are crucial to start the rebuild back to fully operational lungs however there is more. Breathing exercises help improve lung capacity and pulmonary function, it also reduces stress and anxiety by slowing down your heart rate and promoting general relaxation. Deep breathing exercises are also easy to learn and can be done by everyone and everywhere. There are two types: Pursed lip breathing exercises help to release trapped air, keep airways open longer, improve the ease of breathing, and relieves shortness of breath. To perform the basic step, purse your lips as if you are blowing up a balloon when you exhale. Your exhale should be longer than your inhale. The other diaphragmatic breathing exercises strengthen your diaphragm, slow your breathing rate, and decrease oxygen demand. To perform this, place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Inhale through your nose for two seconds, feeling the air move into your abdomen and feeling your stomach move out. Your stomach should move more than your chest does. Along with this meditation and Yoga or Pilates also use the same breathing techniques. Studies have also shown that slumped sitting decreases lung capacity because the position squeezes your lungs making them smaller, so avoid sitting down for long periods of time if avoidable.

Does smoking affect muscle growth?

Short answer – yes. Smoking decreases the number of blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients around the body. Smoking also impairs protein synthesis (the process all cells use to make proteins) which means that recovery takes longer. Also, a smoker’s heart beats an average of 30% faster than that of a non-smoker, which affects the outcome of your exercise in significant ways. Because your heart is working harder to achieve adequate circulation, you use more energy during your workouts. This increase in heart rate, and the resultant increase in blood pressure, diminishes blood flow and reduces your overall performance when performing the same exercise routine as a non-smoker. Several properties of cigarette smoke can also diminish your overall energy levels too. The strain on your heart and lungs will leave you feeling less energetic than that of a non-smoker.

muscle growth on smoking
Smoking B&W

How to stop smoking without putting on weight

Diet. Diet is just as important! It’s great going to the gym for an hour or a jog for thirty minutes outside, but what about the rest of the twenty three hours in the day? Eating the right foods and nutrients can give us energy and stay active throughout the day – but what does that have to do with lung health? A good diet can improve our immune system, reduce weight and can even help us breathe easier – which allow the lungs to work at their maximum capacity. Healthy fats help manage blood pressure. These include nuts, eggs, olive oil and avocado. Proteins help strengthen your respiratory cells and aid in recovery, foods such as lean meats, fish and beans. Then there is the ‘dreaded’ complex carbs which seemingly get overlooked as they have a bad reputation for weight gain. Foods such as whole-grain bread, pasta and oats still play their part as they are high in fibre, aid digestion and regulate blood sugar levels.  Also, while there is no scientific evidence that anti-inflammatory foods will prevent lung inflammation, research has shown that they will reduce inflammation in the body. Blueberries, spinach, almonds, kale and olives are all linked to this. It also may be best to seek advice from a nutritionist to help plan a structured and sustainable diet, while also managing food portions, limiting time factors and still enjoying your food. It has also been known that weight gain occurs after quitting because of the hand-to-mouth action so be mindful of what you eat and do not snack too much.

Ways to keep on track

A lifestyle structure that is sustainable for you is crucial along with a regime that will guide you to get fit. There are several devices and expertise that can assist you along the journey. Blood oxygen and respiratory devices such as a finger pulse oximeter measures blood oxygen levels, pulse rate and gives fast and accurate measurements. A normal level of oxygen is usually 95% or higher and can be measured daily to see improvement. Another device to help show an improvement in your health is a blood pressure monitor. They are good at detecting irregular heartrate, are easy to use and even have advanced blood pressure reminders, so you don’t forget to check. Lastly, fitness watches and trackers show our daily step counters and track calories burned to help you maintain a consistently active and healthy lifestyle. Overall quitting smoking is hard and there is no quick-fix however with determination, a healthy consistent structure and the right tools, knowledge and expertise then it’s only a matter of time until your lungs and body are working at an optimal level.

Staying on track
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Chris Kyriacou,  Fitness Expert & Nutritionist

Chris has been a qualified personal trainer and nutritionist for the last 8 years.

He studied strength and conditioning at Imperial College London, whilst also working at St Mary’s University focusing on how to train and manage patients with cardiovascular disease.

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