Research shows that 13.8% of the UK’s adult population smoke, which means around 6.7 million of us light up. That’s something campaigners are looking to change with a new study recommending that the age at which we can buy tobacco be raised year on year in New Zealand.
We all know that smoking has health risks, so why are so many of us still doing it? I’ve never been a smoker as such, but lately I’ve found myself sharing a few cigarettes while drinking. As someone who cares deeply about their minutes per mile on Strava, I started to wonder how much of an impact a few cigarettes had on my health and physical performance.
SMOKING ANY AMOUNT HAS SERIOUS HEALTH RISKS
EVERY PUFF WILL AFFECT YOUR PERFORMANCE
Unfortunately for us occasional smokers, every cigarette will affect our performance in the gym.
“If you smoke, you get less oxygen to your heart, lungs, and muscles, which reduces your fitness,” says Sarah Campus, personal trainer for women and founder of LDN Mums Fitness.
“It can also cause inflammation of the bones and joints which can contribute to other conditions such as osteoporosis. Those who don’t smoke socially get more oxygen to their heart, lungs and muscles, which improves their physical fitness In fact, if you smoke, your resting heart rate is higher than that of a non-smoker due to decreased oxygenation.
“Smoking even makes it harder for clients to do everyday things, like climbing stairs.”
HOW FAST DOES FITNESS IMPROVE ONCE YOU STOP SMOKING SOCIALLY?
Luckily, if you’re looking to quit those weekend cigarettes, exercise can actually help.
“Quitting smoking significantly improves physical fitness, and exercise can help curb cravings,” says Campus.
“When clients quit smoking, their heart rate decreases, blood flow increases, and lung function improves, which also improves their workout performance. Once you quit smoking, changes tend to be seen within one to nine months in terms of results, less coughing and less shortness of breath.
“I’ve definitely noticed that clients who don’t smoke have noticeably faster fitness results because they generally have a healthier lifestyle and nutrition – they have a lot more energy in and out of workouts. ‘coaching.”
IS OCCASIONAL VAPING HEALTHIER THAN OCCASIONAL SMOKING?
While e-cigarettes (or vapes) are technically better for you than actual cigarettes (though they’re linked to gum disease and conditions like “popcorn lung”), they’re definitely not a healthy option.
“E-cigarettes don’t produce tar or carbon monoxide, which are two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke, but ideally you don’t want to smoke e-cigarettes occasionally either, as they aren’t totally risk-free,” says Govind.
“Smoking used to be glamorous – it’s not so much the case now, but instead we see e-cigarettes potentially being used as an alternative, rather than a way to reduce cigarette consumption.”
COMPLETELY STOPPING IS THE ONLY FITNESS SOLUTION
You may think you only have a few cigarettes a week, but there’s a clear risk that occasional smoking will become a daily habit through nicotine addiction – that’s not good news for your PBs. .
“When it comes to smoking or other recreational drugs, if you’re looking to get fit and healthy, the best course of action is to quit completely,” advises Luke Hughes, personal trainer and founder of OriGym.
“They just can’t be done in a ‘healthy’ way.”
How to quit smoking socially
Tips for Quitting Occasional Smoking by Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
- Try the “no puff” rule. This is a key rule for quitting – tell yourself you won’t even have a puff of a cigarette. Establishing clear rules helps us change our behavior
- Determine your triggers. Think about when you are likely to smoke and develop a plan to avoid smoking. It can help us stop mindlessly doing the things we always do, like having a cigarette when we’re stressed or in the pub.
- Use an alternative. Switching to something like a vape for times when you’re at risk for smoking can make a big difference.
- Stop with friends. People who quit together are more likely not to smoke than when they quit alone. If you’re a social smoker, why not be a social quitter?
- Speak to a healthcare professional. If you want to quit, seeking advice from a trained professional is the most proven route to success. There are local quit smoking services (try Smokefree) and GPs and pharmacies can help too.