How does smoking affect physical activity?

Smoking causes both immediate and long-standing effects on exercise and physical activity. Smokers’ increased risks for cancer, heart and respiratory diseases are well known. Yet, in terms of exercise and physical activity, smokers also have:

  • Less endurance.
  • Poorer physical performance.
  • Increased rates of injury and complications.

Why are smokers less fit than nonsmokers?

To achieve peak performance, your heart, lungs and muscles need oxygen-rich blood. When you inhale tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide (just one of the 4,000-plus chemicals found in tobacco — more than 50 of which are known to cause cancer) binds to red blood cells. As a result, oxygen is displaced, preventing delivery to the muscles and other body tissues. This causes an increase in lactic acid (the substance that causes muscles to feel as if they’re burning, fatigue, heavier breathing and increased soreness after exercise).

This decrease in oxygen reduces your physical endurance, making it more difficult to do well in sports. It makes it harder to do everyday things, too, like walking up stairs. In addition, if you smoke, your resting heart rate is higher than a nonsmoker's due to decreases in oxygenation. This means your heart must work harder to deliver enough oxygen to your body.

What are some other effects of smoking on physical fitness?

Studies show that smokers reach exhaustion before nonsmokers. They also can’t run as far or as fast as nonsmokers. Further research finds that smokers:

  • Obtained less benefit from physical training.
  • Had less muscular strength and flexibility.
  • Experienced disturbed sleep patterns.
  • Suffered from shortness of breath almost three times as often as nonsmokers.
  • Are nearly twice as likely to suffer an injury compared with nonsmokers.
  • Require more time to heal after an injury or risk not healing at all.

Many think that smoking causes inflammation only in the lungs. However, smoking also affects your bones and joints, putting you at increased risk for developing the following conditions:

  • Osteoporosis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Low back pain.
  • Exercise-related injuries, like bursitis, tendonitis, sprains and fractures.
  • Higher risk for complications during surgery, if needed.
  • Slower recovery from injuries.

Does smoking help me keep excess weight off?

Some people begin — or refuse to stop — smoking as a weight control measure. But smoking interferes negatively with metabolism. Additionally, smokers are less likely to be physically active. Men who smoke actually consume 350 to 575 more calories per day than nonsmokers. And studies show that the body fat of smokers tends to be distributed in a pattern (mainly abdominal or central, apple-shaped distribution) that has negative effects on health. A good diet and exercise routine is the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Does smoking affect the physical performance of teens and preteens?

Teen and preteen smokers experience the same negative effects of tobacco as adult smokers, such as:

  • Lower physical endurance and performance compared to nonsmoking peers.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Increased sports-related injuries.
  • Poorer overall health.

Smoking among teens and preteens can also slow down their lung growth, impair lung function, and cause their hearts to beat faster than nonsmokers.

Young people who are heavy smokers also experience coughing, more frequent and severe respiratory illnesses, more frequent injuries and a delayed return to sports after injuries.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Smoking affects your heart, lung and muscles. It can decrease your endurance. You may get more injuries and take longer to recover from them. Fortunately for both adult and young smokers, many of the effects of smoking can be reversed when you quit smoking. Deciding to quit smoking is the first step toward living a healthy, active life. And you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to your healthcare provider if you’d like their help as you quit smoking.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/27/2021.

References

  • National Cancer Institute. . Accessed 8/31/2021.Quitting is a Journey (http://www.smokefree.gov/)
  • Chiolero A, Faeh D, Pacaud F, Cornuz J. . Am J Clin Nutr. April 2008;87(4):801-809. Accessed 8/31/2021.Consequences of smoking for body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin resistance (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18400700/)
  • American Heart Association. . Accessed 8/31/2021.How Smoking and Nicotine Damage Your Body (https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking-tobacco/how-smoking-and-nicotine-damage-your-body)
  • American Lung Association. . Accessed 8/30/2021.10 Health Effects of Smoking You Didn’t Know About (https://www.lung.org/research/sotc/by-the-numbers/10-health-effects-caused-by-smoking)

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy