Countless medical journals have documented the adverse health affects of smoking. Despite all the research demonstrating how harmful smoking can be to the body, many individuals still can't kick the habit even if they perform regular exercise and live an otherwise healthy lifestyle. Some people even like to light up a cigarette immediately following a strenuous workout. While always a bad idea, smoking after exercise can be particularly harmful to the body.
Smoking after exercise places enormous stress on the heart. Like all healthy organs and muscles, the heart requires oxygen to function properly. However, cigarette smoke depletes the body's oxygen, replacing it with harmful carbon dioxide. As a result, the heart must pump harder to supply the body with needed oxygen. The nicotine in cigarettes also acts as a stimulant, further elevating your heart rate beyond the already raised levels produced during exercise.
Inhaling cigarette smoke narrows the air passages in the lungs and makes it more difficult to breathe. Cigarette smoke triggers chronic swelling of the mucus membranes, further restricting airways. Tar present in cigarette smoke coats the lungs, making them less elastic and compromising oxygen capacity. The tar also hinders lung detoxification. After exercise, the body requires as much oxygen as possible to recover, which is why your breathing quickens and your heart rate spikes. But smoking disrupts everything, shrinking airways and reducing the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Smoking after exercise introduces high levels of carbon monoxide into the bloodstream. This carbon monoxide can have serious effects on brain function, depriving the brain of oxygen needed to sustain proper function. Elevated carbon monoxide levels may distort time perception, impair visual performance, disrupt motor skills and even hinder cognitive reasoning. After exercise, you may be feeling exhausted and disoriented to begin with, so smoking only increases the chances of experiencing lightheadedness and other unwanted effects.
By reducing oxygen levels and taxing the heart and lungs, smoking after exercise contributes to fatigue during recovery. This increased fatigue may negate any energy boost from exercising. The post-exercise fatigue may prove so debilitating, smokers may find it difficult to maintain a regular workout routine, leading to less exercise and a drop in overall fitness. Prolonged smoking can suppress oxygen levels to the point that the fatigue lingers and compromises future athletic performance.