Smoking’s Impact on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) offers numerous health benefits. Smoking may place individuals at a greater risk of overexertion, strain, and possible injury.

Smoking causes performance and endurance issues with virtually any sport or workout. This is especially true of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, due to the high levels of respiratory output needed to exercise effectively. While many who exercise regularly also avoid tobacco use, there are some who still try to combine this healthy activity with cigarette smoking.

What Smoking Does to the Body

Over 440,000 people in the US die every year from smoking, according to John Hopkins Medicine. Even more die as a result from secondhand smoke, and thousands of others are diagnosed with a preventable disease caused by the use of tobacco products. Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable death in the modern world.

The way smoking causes disease is complex and the individual causes can be varied. Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer and other health conditions. The smoke also contains carbon monoxide, which can result in poor oxygen distribution and absorption between the lungs and the muscles. Aside from that, airway restriction and excess mucus production in the lungs prevents oxygen intake as well, leading to a deficit throughout the body, especially during physical activity when oxygen requirements are at an increase already.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking affects virtually every organ and tissue in the body.

What is High-Intensity Interval Training?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an exercise program which combines short bursts of highly intense exercises with longer and less strenuous exercises as a recovery period. These shorter, but more intense, periods are said to burn calories and increase cardiovascular function to promote health and weight loss.

How is HIIT Affected by Smoking?

Due to the lack of oxygen flow caused by smoking, HIIT can become far more difficult for smokers. Smoking causes lowered endurance and stamina, shortness of breath, and chest pain during periods of strenuous activity. These conditions can make the more intense periods of exercise used in HIIT far more difficult, if not impossible. Smokers may not be able to finish a workout, and they may find themselves gasping for air or wheezing during more strenuous exercise programs. Individuals are also at risk of longer healing periods, prolonged aches and pains, and possible injury.

Can Smokers Still Engage in HIIT?

Although smoking will almost certainly hinder the effectiveness of HIIT, those who smoke are still encouraged to exercise. The type and intensity of a workout that a smoker can handle will ultimately depend on age, health status, and the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Heavy smokers who are older may find HIIT too strenuous from the start. Even those who are young and otherwise healthy may need to start off with something less taxing on the respiratory system. All sedentary smokers should speak with a healthcare professional before engaging in a new exercise program.

Increase Performance

The only way to fully increase endurance and athletic performance in smokers is to quit. This can be daunting for some, but beginning a new exercise program first may help with nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Additional help is also available in the form of nicotine replacement products and prescription medications. Be sure to speak with a healthcare professional before beginning a new exercise program while taking any medication.

Published: March 16, 2015


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