The Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Metabolism

Office Worker On Cigarette Break

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Metabolism describes the physical and chemical processes that create and use energy within a living cell or organism. How our bodies break down the food we eat and convert it to energy is a function of metabolism. Metabolic rate describes how fast these processes occur. Approximately 60 percent to 75 percent of the calories we burn each day are used to keep our organs working properly.

How Cigarette 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 (average increase, seven beats per minute). This causes extra 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. While shifts in metabolism, along with dietary changes, can signal a slight weight gain after you quit smoking, steps can be taken to build your metabolic rate back up in ways that benefit your health rather than destroy it.

If weight gain due to smoking cessation is something that worries you or is a reality you're already struggling with, use the tips below to help you keep your weight stable as you recover from nicotine addiction.

Exercise Boosts Metabolism and Minimizes Weight Gain

Exercise burns calories and boosts metabolism for up to 24 hours after working out.

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

Exercise breaks down fat and releases it into the bloodstream. This works to curb feelings of hunger.

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
  • Slow bone loss associated with advancing age
  • Lower the risk of certain cancers

How You Can Add More Activity to Daily Tasks

Be sure to check in with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen, especially if you aren't accustomed to being active. Most of us have heard the ideas below before, but do you actually do them? If the answer is no, incorporate some or, preferably all of them into your day when possible.

  • Take five. The next time you feel tense or have the urge to smoke, head out for a brisk 5-minute walk up the street and back. It works wonders for snapping you out of a bad mood and gets your heart pumping too.
  • Park at the back of the lot. Don't patrol the parking lot looking for the space that is closest to the entrance of the building. Head for the back of the lot and take advantage of the opportunity to add a few more steps to your day.
  • Use the stairs. Even if you climb the stairs every other time you need to move from one level to another, you're benefiting your health and helping your waistline.
  • Get your hands dirty. Otherwise known as gardening, digging in the dirt is good for the spirit. And yes, it burns calories too.
  • Breathe deep and embrace your yard work. Everything from mowing the lawn to raking leaves counts as exercise, and potentially a significant amount at that.
  • Use housework as a tool. While this may not be the way you'd prefer to get your exercise, housework is a part of daily life for just about all of us. Make the most of yours by doing your household chores at a strong, steady pace. You'll burn more calories than you might imagine.

Other forms of exercise that might appeal to you include:

  • Sporting Activities: Try to schedule a time for sports a few times a week as you move through the process of recovery from nicotine addiction. If you don't have a favorite sport, now would be a good time to start something new. Walking and swimming are two low-impact activities that are good for just about everyone. And remember, be sure to get your doctor's approval before committing to a new exercise routine.
  • Swimming: Swimming is a very low impact way to exercise your body and refresh yourself at the same time. If you don't have a local club that offers public swims, check with area hotels. They often allow non-guests to use their pool/exercise facilities for a small fee.
  • Dancing: Whether it's in your living room to a piece of favorite music, or a night out at the club with friends, dancing is a fun way to be active. You don't have to be a good dancer to enjoy this form of exercise and burn lots of calories while you're at it.
  • Walking: A good pair of walking shoes is the only equipment you need to get started with this form of exercise. Walk the neighborhood on sunny days, or, if the weather is bad, walk the circumference of the mall. Or use a treadmill to get your daily steps in indoors.
  • Bicycling: Bicycling is a wonderful way to work your body while enjoying the benefits of being outdoors. Pack a water bottle and a light snack, and head out on your bike to explore your surroundings.
  • Strength Training: Especially important for those of us who are getting older, strength training builds muscle mass and slows bone loss while boosting metabolic rate.
  • Yoga: Yoga improves balance while strengthening the body. It also benefits mood by helping us let go of the stress that we often unconsciously carry along with us day to day. If you've never tried yoga, follow the link below to learn more about it.

Every little bit of movement counts when it comes to counteracting the metabolic effects of smoking cessation-related weight gain, not to mention benefiting overall health.

Be creative and committed to incorporating regular exercise into your life, and think of the physical activity as an important tool in your smoking cessation toolbox. Use it to boost metabolism, mood, and ultimately, your motivation to succeed at booting the butts out of your life, once and for all.​

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Article Sources
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  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); 2010.

  3. Bush T, Lovejoy JC, Deprey M, Carpenter KM. The effect of tobacco cessation on weight gain, obesity, and diabetes risk. Obesity. 2016;24(9):1834-1841. doi:10.1002/oby.21582

  4. Kokkinos P. Physical activity, health benefits, and mortality risk. ISRN Cardiol. 2012;2012:718789. doi:10.5402/2012/718789

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