Smoking’s Impact on Running

For Smokers oxygen absorption decreases, as carbon monoxide bonds more easily with hemoglobin. While smoking hinders running primarily by affecting lung performance, there are numerous health risks also involved.

woman running on the stadium

Overall, serious runners are less likely to smoke than those who do not incorporate competitive or high intensity running routines into their daily lives. With that said, there are some smokers who wish to take up running, runners who smoked prior to beginning their new workout method, or simply those who may want to know how smoking will impact their running performance. The answer is that smoking will affect a runner’s performance in a variety of negative ways, depending on several factors. These may include how heavy of a smoker the person is, and whether he or she is running competitively or as a healthy lifestyle choice.

How Smoking Impacts Running

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of dangerous and potentially carcinogenic substances. These substances hinder lung performance, and may lead to serious lung problems, such as cancer or COPD, over time. Even in those without a life-threatening lung condition may find that their ability to perform to their expectancy in running and other sports is hindered. This happens for a variety of reasons.

For one, smoking affects the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. During a run, respiration increases, and oxygen is delivered at a faster rate throughout the body. As the runner continues, more and more oxygen is needed in the heart, as well as in the muscles. While oxygen binds to hemoglobin readily in order to be transported throughout the body to be delivered wherever it’s needed, carbon monoxide is more efficient at binding to hemoglobin. That means carbon monoxide is delivered to the lungs heart, muscles, and cells along with the oxygen. This hinders oxygen absorption by the body, reducing its capacity for endurance training and performance.

This is part of the reason runners who smoke may not be able to reach their distance goals. Smokers have lowered athletic performance, and will often become winded much faster than non-smokers during a workout. Smokers may also experience more cramps in the legs or sides due to the lack of oxygen in these muscle groups.

Smoking also causes airway restriction, according to Coach Joe English. That means even if oxygen could be moved effectively through the body once inhaled, it isn’t allowed to enter the lungs at a fast enough rate to begin with. The combination of restriction and reduced oxygen absorption can be detrimental to runners, whose main objective is to maintain an even breathing pattern in order to prevent fatigue and muscle aches.

How Running Impacts Smoking?

These issues aside, it is still beneficial for smokers to take up running. Starting a new healthy lifestyle routine not only keeps one’s attention away from lighting up, but running will also help to train the respiratory system and increase lung capacity – compared to smokers who do not engage in physical activity. While these runners may never reach their maximum performance thresholds as athletes, the health benefits of running still make it a worthwhile endeavor, according to

Quitting for Runners

While quitting is important for any smoker, those who want to run competitively or as a part of a healthy lifestyle choice should seriously consider giving up their habit. There are numerous stop smoking aids currently available such as nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) and a variety of prescription medications. Before beginning any new medications, discuss with your doctor any health risks involved. NRTs are found to have less side effects, and most can be purchased over the counter.

Published: March 16, 2015


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