The Effects of Smoking on Running

Finding anything positive to say about the effects of cigarette smoking on the body is essentially impossible. Smoking leads to decreased lung capacity, which leads to shallow breathing, lower energy levels and lower immune system function. Simply put, if you want to be successful as a runner on any level, quit smoking. If you are a runner who is continuing to smoke,you may be interested to know some facts about how the smoking habit is affecting your running habit.

A cigarette in an ashtray. (Image: Dorling Kindersley/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images)

Decreased VO2 Max

As a runner, your maximum volume of oxygen (VO2 max), or the amount of oxygen your body can use per minute, is a key component to how well you perform. The more oxygen your body can access, the better you can adjust to running faster and for longer distances. A 2008 study led by NASA's Wyle Laboratory's Larry T. Wier looked at VO2 max levels of runners who smoked regularly. Runners were grouped by how many cigarettes they smoked on an average day. Each group saw significant decreases in VO2 max as the level of smoking exposure increased, making their running performance suffer as compared to non-smokers with the same amount of training.

Energy Depletion

Concentrating on getting enough sleep and eating foods that will fuel your body are essential to having energy to perform as a runner. As a smoker, even if you have incredibly disciplined eating and sleeping habits, you have an uphill battle for adequate endurance in running. A 1999 study by a cardiopulmonary research team at the University of Louisville finds that even during light activity, the average male smoker expended 6.3 percent more energy than a non-smoker. In other words, simply by quitting smoking, your performance has the capacity to improve by over 6 percent, which could be all you need to get to your next personal record.

A Positive Effect

Happily, there is a more pleasant side-effect of smoking on running that has become quite prevalent. Once you quit smoking, you will probably feel the need to fill one addiction with another, and many are now turning to running as a way to quit smoking. You'll celebrate your newly found lung capacity and possibly bond with and find support from others who have quit smoking for a healthier habit by joining a local running group. Even celebrities are getting into the idea of trading cigarettes for running shoes. Actor Matt Dillon says, "After running four miles, the last thing you want to do is light up a cigarette."

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