On both of my parents’ side, almost everyone smokes cigarettes. Watching them puff away happily inspired me to smoke, from ages 20-26. When I first started to smoke, I didn’t pay much attention to any side effects. However, with my lungs full of mucous and tar from smoking, I eventually realized that I was not only harming my health, but also my athletic performance. Read on to find out how I quit smoking by cycling!
It’s a bit strange to think that it was the performance negatives of smoking that led me to quit. Some would say that the unhealthiness of cigarettes alone would make someone quit smoking. However, the addiction to nicotine is strong, and if not for my even stronger addiction to cycling, I might still be puffing away today.
Tobacco Cigarettes: The Anti Performance Drug
There are many negative side effects smoking can have on our athletic performance. One side effect of smoking is the fact that cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide. This causes your blood to be less efficient at absorbing oxygen, leaving your blood-oxygen level low. If you know anything about physiological performance, you’d know that athletes need as much oxygen in their blood as they can get!
Oxygen is the fuel our heart uses to power our muscles, so the more oxygen the more performance.
By ingesting carbon monoxide through smoking your putting extra strain on your heart. This heart strain is due to the decreased-blood-oxygen levels due to smoking. So, in order to get adequate oxygen to power your muscles, it needs to pump faster. This is not only unhealthy, but quite risky as well. In addition to possibly giving you a heart attack, this low-blood oxygen level makes your power and endurance take a nosedive.
A second big negative side effect of smoking is that it narrows your blood vessels. By minimizing the volume of your body’s blood flow, narrow blood vessels increase the strain on your heart during activity. So try cycling up a hill as a smoker, your literally giving your heart double the work.
Another side effect of smoking is that it leaves your lungs full of tar and phlegm. Smoking inflames your mucous membranes, making your body produce extra mucous or “phlegm”. This is not only bothersome and unsightly, but when cycling, it blocks your airway. When you start to need large lungful’s of air to power yourself up a climb, that extra phlegm makes you cough and clear your throat, leaving you gasping for air.
Smoking Is An Addiction
A big problem with quitting smoking is that it’s extremely addictive. Nicotine is naturally occurring in tobacco, popular due to its light stress-relieving qualities. However, nicotine quickly becomes a strong physical and mental addiction. Smoking then becomes a reactionary habit, a buzz appropriate for almost any moment.
The more you smoke, the higher your nicotine tolerance becomes, so you smoke more. This nicotine tolerance is how I ended up smoking a pack of cigarettes every few days. Having started smoking in college, I blamed the stress of my studies for my new habit. After graduating, I planned to quit smoking as soon as possible. However, I was hooked, and smoking is a hard habit to kick.
What Happened After I Quit Smoking?
One day, after pondering all the harm that smoking was doing to my health and cycling performance, I decided to quit. Its now been three years since I quit smoking, and the positive changes are profound. I no longer over produce mucous from irritated mucous membranes, which helps me breathe easier. My heart rate stays lower, meaning its working more efficiently. I’ve also noticed that my power and endurance levels have gone up, letting me set new cycling PR’s daily.
The general sense of well being I have has also gone up since I quit smoking. My lungs feel healthy and clear, and I no longer feel the urge to always be smoking a cigarette. My bank account is also doing better as a non-smoker. Cigarettes are expensive!
So in the end, cycling made me realize what smoking was doing to my body. By making my body perform at high intensity, any weaknesses became more apparent. Smoking was one of those weaknesses, and replacing that addiction with the addiction of cycling was one of the best decisions of my life.
I quit smoking by cycling, and you can too! Get on a bike and replace bad habits with good ones, like this Cycling Fitness Program for Beginner Cyclists!