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Does Exercise Help When Quitting Smoking?

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“I will give up fast food, chocolate, and alcohol”. “My resolution is to exercise more”. “I will exercise every day during Lent”. As a smoking cessation specialist, I have heard all of these things and perhaps even have said them myself.

Quitting smoking is also a popular quest during the Lenten season or as a New Years’ resolution. But for many smokers, the fear of gaining weight when they quit smoking may prevent them from even attempting to quit.

Weight Gain and Quitting Smoking

Why do people gain weight when they quit? As a smoker, your metabolism speeds up and you burn calories at a faster rate. On average, a one pack per day smoker can burn up to 200 calories just by smoking.

However, this is NOT a healthy way to burn calories. Nicotine also suppresses your appetite. When you quit smoking, your metabolism slows back down. Foods smell and taste better. Often we mistake nicotine cravings for feeling hungry and we snack more often.

Even if you do not change your daily diet when you quit smoking, there is the possibility of gaining a few pounds. Average weight gain is 10-12 pounds: not harmful, but often undesirable.

We can prevent and limit weight gain by making healthy dietary choices and being physically active. Preparation is vital. We will eat what we have readily available so stock up on healthy food options. In order to burn the same amount of calories as when you were smoking, you will need to find a way to increase your metabolism. Regular exercise increases your metabolism so you burn more calories.

Benefits of Exercise

There are lots of benefits of exercise and physical fitness. They include:

  • Exercise reduces stress, which is a trigger for both tobacco use and eating
  • Exercise increases your metabolism
  • Improves coordination
  • Strengthens our cardiovascular and respiratory systems
  • Improves stamina, speed and flexibility
  • Strengthens our bones and muscles
  • Prevents the occurrence of a variety of diseases
  • Postpones the process of aging
  • Fit people tend to be happier people

Adding Activity into Your Routine

Do something active each day to prevent and limit weight gain. The cost of a month’s worth of cigarettes are more than the cost of joining a health club.

If joining a gym is intimidating then add in a simple measure such as taking the stairs instead of using the elevator, walking instead of lighting a cigarette, or parking further away in a parking lot to burn calories.

If you are trying to quit smoking and have been inactive start off with low intensity exercise such as 15-20 minutes of walking and build up to a moderate intensity exercise routine like swimming or cycling. Regular exercise when you quit smoking or are trying to quit smoking may prevent those 10-12 pounds. Staying physically active can minimize the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine.

Creating a New Habit

Find an activity that you enjoy with a workout schedule that you will stick with. After a few weeks of not smoking, eating healthy and being active, you will create healthier habits that will lead to a lifetime of positive rewards.


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