Growing up, it was made clear to me that I should never smoke a cigarette. Heart disease, lung cancer, and an array of other health issues were topics of discussion with my parents, and were used as examples to prevent me ever inhaling chemical-laden cigarette smoke.

Though the dangers of smoking cigarettes are now regularly talked about in health classes across the US, the number of Americans who still choose to smoke is staggering. According to the CDC, approximately 400 million Americans smoke cigarettes. Even more shocking is the fact that cigarette smoking is the primary cause of preventable deaths and diseases in the US, and it affects nearly half a million Americans each year.


Photo courtesy of Shaun Dunmall on Flickr

These statistics probably don’t seem shocking to you – we’ve all heard them before – but you might have even chosen to ignore the dangers of cigarettes, and smoke a few each day. Let me put this into perspective for you. Instead of focusing on the long-term effects of smoking (emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease, strokes—just to name a few), let’s talk about the current effects smoking has on your body while you’re working out.

In general, smokers have less endurance than non-smokers as well as increased rates of injury. According to the Cleveland Clinic, tobacco smoke contains carbon monoxide, which binds to red blood cells and displaces oxygen. This means your body can’t deliver oxygen to your muscles as well, which then increases the production of lactic acid. That burning sensation you get in your calves at the end of a long run? That’s your body creating lactic acid.


Photo courtesy of Antara on Flickr

Because a smoker’s body has difficulty delivering oxygen, their resting heart rate is higher than a non-smoker’s. When a smoker works out, their already higher-than-average heart rate rapidly increases in an effort to get oxygen to the body, thus straining the heart.

Physical endurance studies have found that smokers reach the point of exhaustion before non-smokers, and generally have less muscular strength and flexibility, which can lead to exercise-related injuries like tendonitis, sprains, and fractures. As if that wasn’t enough, smokers also have slower rates of recovery than non-smokers, meaning those seemingly minor injuries could become a major pain to deal with (literally).


Photo courtesy of Dennis Defreyne on Flickr

According to an LA Times article, some smokers can contract diseases like chronic bronchitis, which causes irreversible damage to the lungs. Why should this scare you? Irreversible lung damage means a lifetime of difficulties in the gym. Your body will never function at 100% efficiency ever again, meaning your workouts will perpetually deliver less-than-thrilling results.

If you’re thinking about picking up your first cigarette or giving into your nicotine cravings, don’t. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the side effects of smoking cigarettes are years away—they’re not. The side effects are happening right now as you read this article.

Think about that the next time you go to the gym.