Updated 28 January 2014

Fitness and exercise going up in smoke

Did you know smoking and lack of physical activity are two of the top three risk factors for early death and chronic disease that individuals can change?

When you quit smoking, exercising or going to gym could actually HELP you to quit and could even be a factor to keeping you “smoke-free” as you feel an improvement in your health (e.g. depression, anxiety, sleep patterns, stress) and self esteem. (1)

People who are physically active have less desire to smoke. They also have fewer cravings for tobacco and fewer withdrawal symptoms when they quit smoking. (1) People who are not physically active may be more depressed, which could cause them to smoke, or to smoke more often. (1)

Just how does smoking affect the body?

After the age of  35-40 years, for every year of continued smoking a person loses 3 months of life expectancy. (3)

Smoking just a single cigarette can immediately affect exercise capability by constricting blood vessels, which prevents the proper delivery of blood and oxygen to muscles during exercise, thus hampering exercise. Adults experience a 4 % decrease in oxygen uptake immediately after smoking. (2)

Regular smokers face even more performance problems and tend to be less physically active. (2)

Smokers have a reduced performance at all levels of physical training. They demonstrate smaller improvement in training, and their endurance is compromised (7,2 % less than non-smokers). Smokers are more likely to quit at increasing levels of supervised exercise programs. (2)

Smokers have higher resting heart rates and lower maximum heart rates than non-smokers, meaning their hearts always have to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. (2)

Young men and women who smoke are significantly more likely to injure themselves during exercise and will heal slower from their injuries – some will not heal at all. (2)

Although some good athletes smoke, they would be even better if they did not. People who quit smoking demonstrate improved exercise performance compared to those who continue to smoke. (2)

Some people unwisely begin or continue smoking as a weight control measure. But the links between smoking and less physical activity and decreased physical performance actually interfere with healthy and effective weight control. Studies show that the body fat of smokers tends to be distributed in a pattern that has adverse health implications. (2)

Men who smoke burn  30,000 –  35,000 fewer calories of energy per day than non-smokers (2), whilst women who exercise when they quit smoking, delay weight gain. (1)

How does the body react when you stop smoking?


20 minutes: Pulse rate returns to normal.

8 hours: Nicotine in your bloodstream is reduced by 90 % and carbon monoxide reduced by
75 %.

24 hours: Carbon monoxide and nicotine almost eliminated from the body. Lungs start to clear out smoking debris.

48 hours: All traces of nicotine are removed from the body. Your sense of smell and taste are improving.

72 hours: Breathing is easier. Lung bronchial tubes begin to relax and energy levels increase.

2-12 weeks: Circulation improves.

1 month: Physical appearance improves - skin loses its grey pallour and becomes less wrinkled.

1 year: Excess risk of a heart attack reduces by half.

10 years: Risk of lung cancer falls to about half of that of continuing smoker.

15 years: Risk of heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked.

1. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (camh). Physical Activity and Smoking. Key Messages for Patients and the Public.[Internet] [cited 2013 Apr 5].Available from:
Pages/Home.aspx or
2. Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids: Smoking, Physical Activity and Poor Physical Performance. [Internet]; March 14, 2002. [cited 2013 Jan 8]. Available from: http:/
3. Action on Smoking and Health. ASH Fact Sheets. Stopping smoking: the benefits and aids to quitting.[Internet]; December 2012 [cited 2013 Apr 5] Available from:
LICENCE HOLDER: Pfizer Laboratories (Pty) Ltd. Reg. No. 1954/000781/07. 85 Bute Lane, Sandton, 2196, South Africa. Tel.No.: 0860 PFIZER (734937). 44/CHX/04/13/PA