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

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Exercise can reduce the damage cigarette smoking causes to cardiovascular function.
Image Credit: Justin Case/Stone/GettyImages

Cigarette smoking is one of the most difficult habits to break due to the highly addictive nature of its contents. But, there's good news. Exercise can help to repair some of the damage caused by smoking and you don't have to wait until you quit to get started — exercise while quitting smoking.

Tip

Whether you've stopped smoking or not, you can start exercising right away.

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.

Read more: Smoking After Exercising

Expect 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, according to the American Heart Association.

For instance, it elevates blood pressure and narrows blood vessels that transport oxygen. Smoking also reduces the oxygen capacity of your lungs by destroying parts of the lung, including the alveoli, that help your body absorb oxygen.

Over time, you'll probably notice it's difficult to walk just a few blocks or take a flight of stairs. Everyday tasks can quickly cause breathlessness. These aren't symptoms of aging; They're the harmful side effects of smoking.

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. Those symptoms are most likely due to a lack of fitness in general.

Improve Your Health

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.

An article published in February 2015 by Libyan Journal of Medicine demonstrated improved lung function in smokers after 12 weeks of exercise — despite continued smoking behaviors.

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 want to quit, you'll notice fast improvements in your fitness levels after just a few days of exercise. According to the American Cancer Society, blood levels of carbon monoxide drop to normal just 12 hours after quitting smoking.

Read more: Top 11 Ways to Quit Smoking

Get Moving and Stay 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 while getting back in shape after smoking.

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 cardio after quitting smoking. With regular exercise, you'll feel better and reduce your risk of a relapse.

Slowly build up to at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, as recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Is This an Emergency?

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections, it is best to call your doctor before leaving the house if you are experiencing a high fever, shortness of breath or another, more serious symptom.
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