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How Soon After You Quit Smoking Can You Start to Exercise?

author image Kay Uzoma
Kay Uzoma has been writing professionally since 1999. Her work has appeared in "Reader’s Digest," "Balance," pharmaceutical and natural health newsletters and on websites such as QualityHealth.com. She is a former editor for a national Canadian magazine and holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from York University.
How Soon After You Quit Smoking Can You Start to Exercise?
Exercise can reduce the damage cigarette smoking causes to cardiovascular function. Photo Credit Maridav/iStock/Getty Images

Cigarette smoking is one of the most difficult habits to break due to the highly addictive nature of nicotine. Nicotine, carbon dioxide and other toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke take a toll on your health. They reduce lung and heart function, which undermines cardiovascular fitness and exercise endurance. Exercise can help to repair some of the damage caused by cigarette smoking -- and you don’t have to wait until you quit to get started.

Smoking Causes Shortness of Breath

When you smoke, you become breathless more quickly during physical activity. Cigarette smoking is one of the leading risk factors for cardiovascular problems. For instance, it elevates blood pressure and narrows blood vessels that transport oxygen. Smoking also destroys parts of the lung, including the alveoli, that help your body absorb oxygen and reduces oxygen capacity of your lungs. Over time, you’ll notice it’s difficult to walk just a few blocks or take a flight of stairs. These aren’t symptoms of aging; they’re the harmful side effects of smoking.

Improve Your Health Through Exercise

You don’t have to wait until you’ve puffed that last cigarette to start exercising. In fact, you shouldn’t. Exercise might have a protective effect and reduce some of the damage caused by smoking. Also, exercise can be an invaluable part of your plan to quit smoking. It helps you to relax, which can curb cravings. It can also distract you from those cravings when they arise. However, if you do wait to quit, you’ll notice fast improvements in your fitness levels after just a few days of exercise.

Smoking Isn't Always the Cause of Breathlessness

If you quit smoking a while ago and are just starting an exercise program, you cannot blame breathlessness or lack of endurance during exercise on smoking solely. After just three to five days of quitting, blood cells regain their normal ability to transport oxygen to your heart and muscles. Those symptoms are most likely due to a lack of fitness in general.

Get Moving

Before you begin exercising, go for a physical exam. Once your doctor gives you the green light to start, do so slowly. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise should be your starting point, not occasional vigorous-intensity exercises. For instance, walk for 10 to 20 minutes three to four days a week. As your fitness improves, increase the duration and intensity of your exercise sessions on a weekly basis. With regular exercise, you’ll feel better and reduce your risk of a relapse.

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