The reason is that exercise helps your body to adapt to its new state of affairs. Smoking is an addiction; our bodies come to need regular hits of nicotine to go about their daily lives. That’s why coming off the fags is unpleasant: two weeks of intense withdrawal symptoms, normally followed by around six months of intermittent cravings. Of course, those weeks and months of difficulty are nothing compared to the long-term health effects of smoking.
Physical Symptoms of withdrawal
- Sore throat, coughing and associated cold symptoms
- Sweats, sometimes cold sweats
- Tingling in the extremities
- An Increase in appetite
- Digestive and intestinal disorders (cramping & nausea)
Psychological Symptoms of withdrawal
The cessation of smoking also has a number of psychological side effects. This is the case with any chemical withdrawal, but the fact that smoking is often utilised as a social activity, weight loss aid, time spinner and social anxiety aid can mean that a lot of psychological change and distress can manifest in the first few weeks of stopping smoking.
- Anger and mood swings
- Loss of concentration
- Cigarette cravings
Now that we have covered the negative aspects of giving up smoking, let’s have a look at some of the positive physical changes you can expect as a result of making the change.
Positive physical changes after smoking
- Increased circulation
- Improved immune system
- Improved lung capacity
- Slowing of the unnecessarily rapid ageing process
How can exercise help?
Working out is good for anyone – but it offers a few specific and vital boons for the smoker trying to give up:
Reduced hunger. It sounds counter-intuitive, but a natural response to regular moderate exercise is a reduced level of hunger. According to a study published by the American Physiology Society, exercise dampens the production of ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite, and promotes the production of appetite-suppressing peptide YY.
Of course, after a workout, you’re going to need to take on food to replace lost energy. Further studies show you’re more likely to choose your food wisely in such a circumstance, than if you’ve been sedentary all day.
Limits weight gain. Many people find that smoking helps them avoid putting on weight. What’s more, when they give up, they find a new fidget toy to play with: food. Exercise helps counteract any increased food intake by burning those extra calories.
Manages stress. Many people utilise smoking as a way of quelling social anxiety and stress – but the truth is that smoking is actually putting the body under a lot of undue stress. Exercise helps as an alternative to both. Moderate intensity exercise will promote the release of endorphins and hormones associated with reduced cortisol and anxiety. Thus those who engage in regular moderate exercise are going to be less stressed overall than those who do not.
How to setup your quit smoking exercise plan
The exercise plan that is going to help you to quit smoking will need to be challenging enough for you to experience the desired change in physicality, while at the same time remaining moderate enough to not act as a further stressor that will inhibit your overall ability to recover.
It’s also important to be mindful of the fact that you are trying to break a very powerful, existing habit in smoking, so setting up a program that is going to be too hard to follow wouldn’t be wise, because it will heap more stress onto your life. Essentially, you want the lowest possible barrier to entry.
Week one: Begin with a walk
Walking is perhaps the easiest form of exercise to integrate into your weekly routine, because you can do it anywhere, and with zero equipment. There is also no prerequisite fitness requirement in order to get started. Walking provides a very meditative, calming effect on the body; it should ease the tension you feel in your new, cigarette-less existence.
. Aim for three 20 minute brisk walks each week.
Week two: Add total body workouts
To build upon your regular walks, I would recommend that you also perform a total body workout, twice a week. This could be the same workout performed twice for simplicity’s sake, or two completely different workouts. The main aim is that you exercise your body to a moderate intensity, engage all of your major muscle groups, and move your skeleton through its range of motion.
Pilates and yoga are excellent for this purpose, though you can also put together a simple bodyweight workout of your own, like the one below for example:
- Bodyweight Squat
- One leg deadlift
- Reverse lunge
- Russian abdominal twist
- Bodyweight shoulder press
- Press-up on knees
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds before moving on to the next, and do the circuit three times in total.
Beyond week 2: Look at your diet
One of the additional benefits of quitting smoking that I’ve not yet mentioned is that your sense of taste and smell will return to full sensitivity. This means that your culinary experience will become more and more vivid as the weeks roll on.
You don’t have to get too crazy with a healthy dietary intake at this stage, counting calories and keening a food diet; it’s just an opportunity to begin thinking about the obvious detractors to your health, such as refined sugar, excessive alcohol, processed foods or preservatives.
You really just want to be eating in moderation, rather than replacing your old addiction (nicotine) with a new one (chocolate).
The positive feedback loop
After a few weeks of living a healthy lifestyle and reinforcing your new habits, you will begin to expereince what we might refer to as a positive feedback loop, whereby all of the benefits begin to build upon each other and grow.
Let’s be clear: in the early stages, giving up smoking will be very challenging. However, as your body recovers and then improves, you should find you enjoy both exercise and healthy eating a lot more. The habits become easier to maintain.
You will also notice that at the end of the whole process you’ll be equipped with a higher level of self esteem. The perfect opportunity, then, to start a new challenge or set yourself a new goal.