The Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Metabolism

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Metabolism describes the process that creates and uses energy within the body. How our bodies break down the food we eat and convert it to energy is a function of metabolism. Metabolism also uses nutrients from food to circulate blood, grow cells, and repair cells. Metabolic rate describes how fast these processes occur.

While genetics are mostly responsible for how fast a person's metabolism is, other lifestyle factors such as smoking can greatly influence metabolism as well.

How Smoking Affects Metabolism

Cigarette smoking increases a person's metabolic rate slightly by forcing the heart to beat faster. Regular smoking increases the heart rate both in the short term (up to 20 beats per minute) and throughout the day (the average increase is seven beats per minute).

Increasing the metabolic rate puts added stress on the heart and plays a role in heart disease, the most common cause of smoking-related death.

When you stop smoking and your heart rate slows down, so does your metabolic rate.

Boosting Your Metabolism After You Quit Smoking

Shifts in metabolism along with dietary changes can trigger some weight gain after you quit smoking. These changes can trigger some physical and mental health effects that may be challenging to cope with.

However, there are tools you can use to your advantage to cope with quitting smoking and gaining weight while building your metabolic rate back up in ways that benefit your health.

Mindful Eating

Some people revert to eating as a way to manage stress when they quit. However, stress eating and compulsive eating can further metabolic decline.

One study found that mindful eating can help people who struggle with stress eating boost their metabolism. Mindful eating means understanding your body's cues, such as knowing when you're hungry, knowing when you're full, and maintaining awareness while you eat.

A therapist can teach you healthy coping mechanisms to use instead of smoking or eating any time you dealing with hard emotions and combatting stress or even boredom.

Hydration

Your body can easily mistake thirst for hunger. Make sure you're drinking enough water every day. Staying hydrated can help ensure that you're consuming the calories you need, and not eating when you're actually thirsty. Drinking water throughout the day can also help boost weight loss efforts by increasing metabolic function.

Conveniently, drinking water is an effective strategy for dealing with cigarette cravings.

Exercise

Exercise is hugely beneficial when you are quitting smoking. It can help minimize weight gain by burning calories and boosting metabolism. Exercise also breaks down fat and releases it into the bloodstream, which works to curb feelings of hunger.

Nicotine use triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Exercise also releases this same brain chemical, but in a healthy way that allows you to enjoy the pleasant effects of dopamine without risking your health.

Increasing your level of daily activity provides other important benefits as well. Exercise has been shown to:

  • Help control cholesterol levels and heart disease
  • Help control the effects of diabetes
  • Lower the risk of certain cancers
  • Slow bone loss associated with advancing age

What kind of exercise should you do? Anything you enjoy! Be sure to consult a healthcare provider before committing to a new exercise routine. Some ways to exercise that you might enjoy include:

  • Bicycling: Bicycling is a wonderful way to work your body while enjoying the benefits of being outdoors.
  • Dancing: Whether it's in your living room to a piece of favorite music, or at a club with friends, you don't have to be a good dancer to enjoy this form of exercise.
  • Swimming: Swimming is a low-impact way to exercise your body and feel refreshed.
  • Walking: A good pair of walking shoes is all you need. Walk the neighborhood on sunny days, or, if the weather is bad, walk the circumference of the mall, an indoor track, or even on a treadmill.
  • Yoga: Yoga improves strength and flexibility. It also benefits mood by promoting the release of everyday stress. Try taking a beginner's class or following along with a video online.

Remember, every little bit of physical activity counts. Maybe you spend some time gardening or doing yard work. That counts. When you go to the store, maybe you park in the back of the parking lot so you add some extra steps in that day.

Coping With Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking

If you've just quit smoking, you may already be dealing with the mental health effects of quitting—which often include sadness, irritability, and restlessness.

In addition, some people experience symptoms of anxiety and depression when they gain weight, or when they're trying to lose weight in general. Many people worry they won't be able to quit smoking and deal with weight gain at the same time.

If you want to quit smoking, try not to let the fear of gaining weight stop you. Talk to a healthcare provider about your concerns.

Depending on your body weight and other health factors, a doctor may recommend that you focus on quitting smoking first and address weight gain later on, if needed. Or, they may suggest lifestyle and dietary changes that can help you quit smoking while minimizing weight gain at the same time.

According to one study, "There are many similarities between the skills needed to make and maintain behavior change and prevent relapse for weight loss and smoking cessation."

By learning new coping mechanisms and developing healthy habits, you can feel more confident on your journey to quit smoking and manage weight gain, if necessary, at the same time.

A Word From Verywell

There are many challenges related to quitting smoking, but that doesn't mean you should give up. While your metabolism will likely undergo changes when you quit, there are many healthy ways of boosting your metabolism that can simultaneously help you deal with cigarette cravings.

Think of things like eating healthily, exercising, and relieving stress as important tools in your smoking cessation toolbox. Use them to boost metabolism, mood, and ultimately, motivation to lead a healthy lifestyle.

13 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.