Free your lungs: how improving your fitness can help you kick nicotine cravings

With the winter party season fast approaching, it's often accompanied by the temptation to give in to unhealthy cravings and lifestyle choices, only to wake up in January feeling the effects of our over indulgence and resolving to start over. You don't have to wait until those New Year blues to start making positive changes in your life, however; a fun and regular fitness program has knock on effects when it comes to kicking other bad habits, including smoking. Nicotine addiction is notoriously hard to beat, and people spend a fortune every year on aids, gimmicks and even therapy to overcome it. But a new study shows that those who incorporate an exercise regime into a healthy lifestyle are up to twice as likely to both quit smoking and stay off it for good. A fitness plan that includes lots of moderate cardiovascular work will also help to improve lung capacity that has been damaged by years of inhaling cigarette smoke, improving health in all areas of your life. 

Quitting doesn't have to mean gaining weight

One of the reasons people are often reluctant to give up smoking, in spite of the known health risks and detrimental effects, is due to a fear of putting on weight. There is a very real basis to this as experts agree that quitting cigarettes can lead to a slight decrease in metabolism, as cigarette smoking leads to an increase due to an elevated heart rate. Smokers are less likely to snack as the nicotine inhibits insulin production, resulting in sugar staying in the bloodstream for longer and giver the smoker the feeling of being more 'full' than they actually are. When smoking is ceased so is this effect and the new nonsmoker may find themselves getting hungry more frequently - and with the sudden drop in blood sugar, this often means reaching for an unhealthy snack. Add to all this the common reaction of comfort eating in place of the smoking habit and to reduce the stress that nicotine withdrawal can cause, and it's easy to see why weight gain is so often associated with quitting cigarettes. The good news is that exercise can help with all of this. A regular comprehensive fitness regime increases the metabolism, regulates blood sugar and of course keeps the weight down. It's also a much healthier habit with which to replace cigarette smoking than comfort eating!

Freedom from addiction

Exercise programs are often used to help treat addictions of all kind, and may be particularly helpful for smokers and drinkers. Exercise increases endorphins and promotes feelings of well-being that will make you less likely to feel the need for that cigarette, even in previously heavy smokers. Health professionals advise an exercise program alongside nonsmoking drugs for optimal results and to help the new nonsmoker stay away from cigarettes long after the prescription has stopped. For smokers who are unable to access medicines to help with smoking cessation, an exercise program is the recommended alternative. Regular vigorous exercise is recommended, three to five times a week, and with the wealth of exercise classes and programs on offer this should be far from a chore. The key is to find something enjoyable and that fits into your lifestyle. Once the effects of the exercise program begin to take hold, most people will find they have acquired a new habit, with much more positive health benefits.

Increased lung capacity

One of the most common side effects of long term smoking is decreased lung capacity. Regular smokers can often feel short of breath and be prone to coughs and wheezing. This may be a reason why some smokers are reluctant to exercise, but they key here is to start slowly and gradually build up the intensity of your fitness program. Regular exercise that works the heart and lungs can have dramatic effects over time and lung capacity will gradually return, leading to optimal health and a better quality of life.

As if all this wasn't reason enough to start an exercise program, being fit also makes you feel happy, due to the release of stress busting endorphins and increased health and well-being. If you use a fitness regime as part of your nonsmoking plan, the sense of achievement and ability to breathe better are rewards in themselves.



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