Make the most of the national smoking ban on Monday by swapping cigarettes for exercise, says Philip Carling of the Sports Council for Wales
THE ban on smoking will revolutionize the very face of Wales’ public indoor spaces, transforming them into healthier, smoke-free zones as the last cigarettes are stubbed out in nightclubs, restaurants, and pub ash-trays from Angelsey to Monmouthshire.
Smokers can take the ban more personally by making a pledge to integrate 30 minutes physical activity five times a week into their lifestyle, even if they are not intending to stub out the habit for good. It’s all part of Health Challenge Wales.
The message that ‘smoking is bad for you’ is so old now that people have stopped giving it their full attention. Instead I would urge adults to consider that physical activity has profound benefits and can only enhance your well being, regardless of whether you smoke.
The pub smoking ban offers a perfect opportunity for smokers to adopt a healthier more active lifestyle. If, like many smokers throughout Wales, you’re dreading its onset, now is the time to start putting the benefits of physical activity into practice. It has been proven that exercise is one of the best ways to help smokers kick the habit, and by stopping you are benefiting the health of the nation.
Research shows that smoking kills around 114,000 people in the UK each year owing to smoking related cancers, cardiovascular and lung disease, or high blood pressure leading to heart attacks and stroke. Exercise reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, lowers the chance of lung cancer, boosts circulation and helps maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Exercise is a vital tool in your successful quitting kit, and you don’t have to spend money buying it from the supermarket shelf. Aside from improving physical ability and appearance, physical activity provides fun, focus and fitness which are more likely to help you stub out the habit for good, not just for two weeks.
What exercise can do for you
1. Naturally increases metabolism
According to the National Centre for Health Statistics, nicotine artificially raises your metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn within a 24-hour period) by 20%. So when you quit, your metabolism returns to what it really should be.
Getting firmer, stronger muscles by doing regular physical activity like cycling and walking is a much healthier way of increasing your metabolic rate.
2. Controls weight gain
One of the scariest things about quitting smoking is the fear of gaining weight. A slower metabolism after quitting, combined with an improvement in taste and smell, a tendency to substitute food for cigarettes and emotional eating to relieve the stress of quitting can all result in weight gain of anywhere between 5-10lbs for the average smoker.
The combination of eating more calories while burning less means that regular physical activity is crucial. Aerobic exercise like walking, cycling, swimming or dancing for 30 minutes a day at a low-intensity will burn anything between 100-300 calories depending on the intensity and duration of your exercise.
Smokers who philosophize that smoking keeps them slim may also need to consider that nicotine causes body fat to be distributed to the upper body and abdominal area or in an “apple” shape – which is linked with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and early death.
3. Suppresses appetite
Stub out cigarettes and you can guarantee human nature will have you automatically reaching for the biscuit tin instead. Just like your regular rugby match, kicking a habit is always a game of substitution. But exercise is a natural way to temporarily suppress appetite because it regulates sugar levels in your blood. This in turn reduces the cravings for sweets and junk foods which we might bring onto the pitch to replace cigarettes.
4. Offers relief from nicotine cravings
Take a 10-minute brisk walk every time the nicotine cravings come calling, and fitness levels will soon be soaring. Physical activity can help take the ‘edge’ off nicotine cravings by bringing temporary relief until they pass.
Exercise improves blood circulation, so just a ten-minute walk can produce chemical endorphins in the brain which create a sense of well-being – the same ‘buzz’ smokers get from filling their lungs with smoke.
Regular physical activity is also a cheaper and more maintainable way of curbing the cravings for those who don’t want to use nicotine replacement therapy.
5. Curbs boredom
Boredom is one of the biggest barriers to quitting smoking. You can predict the routine now – arrive home after a hard day; slump into the sofa; stick the telly on and already your mind is wandering towards the ash tray as you gradually lose the fight to keep your hands occupied.
A cycle through the park or to the shops where there are things to look at, an exercise class where there are people to meet, or just a mind-challenging mountain-stroll at the weekend will help keep your mind away from the cigarettes. Don’t let boredom beat you down. Physical activity and sport can be a hobby, offering a fresh focus to get your teeth stuck into – without wasting your time whiling the hours away in frustration.
6. Relieves anxiety and stress
If you have ever tried to quit or know someone who is in the process, you’ll know that grouchiness, anxiety and depression are lurking nearby like an unwanted guest. Exercise is a proven mood lifter and anxiety reliever so you can banish any late-night desires to creep out the back door and light-up after a tough day.
Mood swings are a common temporary side effect of kicking any habit, but they can be used to fuel your physical goals. Vent your frustration at kick-boxing, whack out your woes with a tennis ball, or release tension with a gentle session of yoga or pilates.
7. Fuels a revitalising sleep
People who exercise regularly have fewer episodes of sleeplessness – a common side-effect of quitting. The temptation to light up is probably at its strongest after a heavy day when we are tired, so a more sufficient sleep may help stop the hands from reaching for the cigarettes simply because the body needs a boost.
Moderate exercise lasting 20-30 minutes five times a week promotes a more revitalising sleep because it is a physical stressor to the body. The brain compensates for physical stress by increasing deep sleep and so we sleep more soundly.
8. Promotes a buzzing social life
Lots of smokers argue that their social life will be affected if they quit. Getting involved in sport and physical activity is one of the most enjoyable ways to socialise – whether going for walks with the family, taking the kids for a kick-about or giving Grandma some company to the shops. Join a club, try out a gym class – talk to the regulars at your local swimming pool. The friends you make through sport and physical activity might just be your friends for life.
More importantly, swapping bad breath, sallow skin and yellow teeth for a healthier body image is crucial to fostering confidence and a positive mental attitude. Physical activity burns fat and boosts circulation, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the skin so that it is firmer and better nourished – good news since smoking can leave the skin up to 40% thinner. People who are physically fit not only look good, but feel good too.
9. Cuts huffing and puffing
Physical activity strengthens your heart and lungs while improving circulation so there is to be no more humiliating huffing and puffing as you climb the stairs behind your colleagues.
Lots of people mistakenly think exercise will make them tired, but – at the appropriate intensity and duration for your current fitness level – it will actually invigorate you and make you more energetic.
10. Slows lung decline
Studies suggest that smokers who exercise are at a 35% lower risk of developing lung cancer than those who don’t exercise. But, not surprisingly, smokers often complain of breathing difficulty and muscle fatigue during exercise and hence avoid it at all costs. Physical activity does not improve lung function but will slow its decline by strengthening the limb muscles and respiratory system. It enables more oxygen to practice getting to the vital muscles, thus gradually improving endurance and reducing breathlessness.
Philip Carling is chairman of the Sports Council for Wales.
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