The Effects of Smoking on Athletes

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Smoking is well-documented as a serious hazard to your health. It is also a serious hindrance to athletic performance, as it inhibits oxygen supply to your brain, heart and muscles. In addition, smoking decreases your body's capacity to heal, weakens your skeleton and raises your blood pressure. Athletes who smoke have less endurance, are weaker and suffer more injuries than their nonsmoking competitors.

Pulmonary Effects

Smoking has a pronounced effect on available oxygen in the body. The nicotine in cigarette smoke causes constriction of the bronchioles, which decreases the amount of oxygen that can enter the lungs. At the same time, nicotine constricts the blood vessels, decreasing the amount of blood flowing to the lungs. In addition, the smoke itself irritates the lungs, causing further bronchoconstriction. Carbon monoxide from smoke binds to hemoglobin, which would normally bind to oxygen, further decreasing the amount of oxygen the bloodstream.

Cardiovascular Effects

Smoking also limits cardiovascular performance. The heart depends on oxygen to function and, when oxygen levels are reduced, the heart is compromised. Nicotine's constriction of the blood vessels raises blood pressure and adds to the workload of the heart. Thus, athletes who smoke become fatigued faster than those who do not.

Musculoskeletal Effects

Smoking negatively affects the muscles and bones as well. During athletic activities, muscles need a constant supply of oxygen to perform. Smoking decreases the amount of blood flowing to the muscles. In addition, smoking lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood, further decreasing the muscles' ability to generate additional energy for movement.

Smoking increases a person's risk for osteoporosis. This effect is amplified in female athletes who already have a predisposition for osteoporosis. As the skeleton becomes more fragile, athletic activities become more dangerous due to risk of bone fracture.

Effects on Healing

Smoking causes the release of enzymes that break down collagen, a protein in skin and connective tissue. In addition, smoking slows the synthesis of collagen, which is necessary for healing. When tendons, ligaments or bones are injured, collagen fibers are integral to the healing process. Athletes who smoke will heal more slowly than nonsmoking athletes.

Long-term Effects

Smoking has immediate effects on athletic performance, but there are also long-term effects. Smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma. These severe respiratory conditions can permanently end your athletic activities.

Marijuana and Smokeless Tobacco

As many of smoking's negative effects are caused by nicotine, smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative. Smokeless tobacco also increases heart rate and constricts blood vessels. This is also true of smoking tobacco in a water pipe.

Marijuana is no safer than tobacco; in fact, its effects on athletic performance are more severe. Marijuana smoke also causes constriction of the lungs, reducing the amount of air that can be inhaled. Marijuana also causes a drop in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate, which decreases the amount of oxygen being delivered to the muscles. In addition, it causes a severe decrease in coordination and mental acuity -- an effect that can last over 24 hours.

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