The nicotine patch is a form of nicotine replacement therapy. It works by releasing a steady amount of nicotine into the body to help minimize the symptoms of withdrawal. You need only adhere the transdermal patch to the skin to feel its effects. But if you take time to read the pamphlet, you may have noticed the recommendation of removing the patch at least two hours prior to strenuous exercise, leading some people to wonder if it's either the activity itself or the likely perspiration that's behind the reason for removal.
Nicotine causes both physical and mood-altering effects in the body by increasing the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain. Each time you smoke, your body experiences a temporary pleasure. The nicotine patch has the same basic effect on the body, maintaining the release of neurotransmitters so you don't experience symptoms of withdrawal when you quit smoking.
Since the patch releases a steady amount of nicotine into the body, exercising with the aid still on your skin can increase the concentration of nicotine in the bloodstream. A 1995 study reported by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology explains that regional blood flow regulates the amount of nicotine released by the transdermal patch. Exercising increases heart rate and thereby increases blood flow, which would have a direct impact on the amount of nicotine released into the body. The study's authors at the Oslo University Hospital Ulleval determined that even just 20 minutes of exercise can increase plasma concentration levels.
Though nicotine influences the release of neurotransmitters associated with pleasure, too much of this drug can lead to undesirable side effects. Like other mood-altering substances, high doses of nicotine are known to causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains. It may also result in headaches, dizziness, confusion, cold sweats and changes in vision or hearing. In more severe cases, it may even cause heart palpitations, chest pain, seizures and death.
As the instructions recommend, it's best to remove the nicotine patch prior to exercise, especially when involved in strenuous activities such as running, biking, swimming and playing most competitive sports. Talk to your doctor to determine which activities may significantly impact the amount of nicotine released into the bloodstream.
If you do take part in regular exercise, try coordinating the replacement of the patch with your daily workout. If you exercise in the afternoons, apply the first patch after your workout and wear the aid until your next workout. It's often difficult to reapply the patch once it's been removed. However, some people have reported vivid dreams and other sleep disturbances when wearing the patch at night, warns MayoClinic.com.