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Add this to the million other reasons to quit smoking: Smoking makes it harder to save face – and body. According to the article, observers in a study rated the skin of smokers as being wrinklier compared to the skin of non-smokers. The study used photos of the skin of participants’ upper arms. The article has some good news, though; only a year after quitting, the arteries of former smokers are softer and less rigid.

Another recent CBC article says to head out for a walk to curb cigarette appetite. Apparently as little as 5 minutes of exercise in response to cravings has as positive an effect as a nicotine patch. The success could be due to the distraction exercise provides, the extra dopamine it causes the brain to produce, or other factors.

That jibes with an interview I heard a few weeks ago with a woman who won a car last year in the Ontario ‘Driven to Quit’ campaign, where she shared the secret of her success: she said every time she felt a craving for a cigarette, she drank a glass of ice-cold water. Usually by the time the water was down the craving was gone, but if not, she would go for a brisk walk around the block (this happened during an Ontario winter).

While I was listening I was reminded of two things: The first was yet another article I read recently, which stated that in a meta-study of the effects of exercise, contrary to the prevailing school of thought over the past 30 years, exercising in packets as tiny as 5 minutes long have a noticeable positive effect on the body. Not quite as good as a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise at one go, but significantly more benefit than the analysts expected. Second was the woman who lives down the street from me. I frequently see her, at varying times of the day, walking up and down the block with a cigarette. Often she’s in a robe and slippers. We exchange hellos, talk about the weather, and after one lap up and down the block she’s back home again.

The connection is this: Every time I see her I am reminded not only that exercising to relieve cravings after quitting is a great idea, but exercising during smoking is also a great idea. Who says you have to quit smoking in order to exercise? What if a smoker decided that, for at least 10 cigarettes a day, s/he would go outside and take a brisk walk during each smoke? 5 minutes a cigarette for 10 cigarettes would mean 50 minutes of exercise a day. Or, what if, before or after every cig, s/he walked up and down a flight of stairs a couple of times. Now I just started doing stairs recently (not Stairmaster, actual stairs), and at a total of only 30 flights a week I’ve noticed a big difference to both my cardio health and my bottom.

The ‘smoke break’ is endemic to our modern culture, but face it: most smokers just go somewhere peaceful and legal to enjoy a puff. Very few actually use the opportunity to really get moving. Let’s change all that! Barring a medical concern (see your doctor before embarking on any exercise program), there’s no good reason not to exercise. And smokers need that good health inoculation more than anyone! I think, unfortunately, that we have blindly embraced the idea that it’s only worthwhile to do one healthy thing if we’re also doing all of them. Meaning, it’s no use starting to exercise unless I’m going to eat more healthily. Or it’s no use quitting smoking while still drinking heavily. Let’s make sure that the smokers in our lives don’t feel like getting a bit of exercise isn’t useful while they’re still smoking. Let’s make sure our doctors aren’t conveying this message in their efforts to encourage patients’ good health. Every bit helps.  

One Response to “Smoking and exercise: not incompatible after all”

  1. [...] limiting alcohol to 14 units or fewer per week, exercising regularly, and not smoking (see my post Smoking and exercise: not incompatible after all), resulted in the equivalent of a 14 year difference in ‘real’ age compared to subjects who [...]

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