Once you quit smoking, your physical health improves exponentially as your body works to repair the damage done to the cardiovascular system. Running strengthens the cardiovascular system, enabling your heart and lungs to oxygenate your blood to your body's full potential. However, if you recently quit smoking, it's important to ease into your running regimen at a pace appropriate to your current condition.
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Step 1: Get Medical Clearance
Many former smokers are amazed at how fast their cardio health can improve once they've quit. However, it's important to recognize your current level of fitness and work within its limitations. Exercising too hard can put a strain on your heart, particularly if you are overweight. Check in with your physician to ensure that you're fit for exercise, and, if so, the level of intensity you can safely do.
In addition to checking your blood pressure, your doctor may want you to take a Graded Exercise Test (GXT) to determine your body's capacity for exercise. A Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) may also be given to determine how much oxygen your lungs can transfer into the lungs. These tests also will provide a baseline to check your progress as your body recovers from smoking.
Step 2: Easy Does It
Your doctor might talk to you about the appropriate target heart rate for your age and condition and recommend a duration for your runs. There are numerous apps available to monitor your pulse and other vital signs. Rather than running right off the bat, you may be better off starting with brisk walks — neither your muscles nor your lungs have been put to the test in awhile, so the tissue needs time to adapt to exertion. It's also possible that too much intense exercise too soon could induce oxidative stress in the lungs.
Step 3: Walk Before You Run
A brisk walk to warm up before you run is essential. It gets blood flowing to your extremities, which makes you less likely to injure yourself when you start adding speed. What's more, warming up helps prevent Exercise Induced Asthma, which is just what it sounds like — smokers, current and former, are more prone to asthma.
Step 4: Work Your Way Up
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," goes the old proverb. Former heavy smokers may find it difficult to even walk more than a few yards at first but find they can increase their distance and speed rapidly with effort. There's no set formula for building up your running practice after quitting smoking, and you will quickly learn to listen to your body. If going around the block once is a challenge in the beginning, go halfway around, then two-thirds and so on.
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