How Running is Helping Me Quit Smoking

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Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Running and smoking cigarettes — I’d be hard-pressed to find two more diametrically opposed habits if I tried.

And yet, for several years, I’ve done both.

I’ve been an on-and-off smoker for over a decade, and an on-and-off runner for the past few years. Normally these habits haven’t overlapped, but occasionally they have, even for months at a time.

I’ve found myself coming home from a long run, my heart pounding, only to immediately light a cigarette. I’ve stood on the porch sucking down smoke and nicotine as the sweat from my run was still dripping to the ground.

I don’t have the words to describe how foolish I felt. (At least I never smoked during a run.)

These habits both represent what I want to change the most about myself, but in opposite directions. I’ve struggled for a long time to give up cigarettes, while at the same time working hard to run consistently.

I’m proud to say that lately, I’ve been experiencing success in both directions — it’s been nearly two months since I stopped smoking, and I’ve been running fairly regularly for about a year now. (Although, I did have to take a month and a half of that off for an injured leg.)

Don’t Use Bad Habits as Excuses

Although I felt foolish taking up running as a smoker, I’m glad I did.

I’m actually surprised how often I see questions about running and smoking pop up on running forums. Typically, it’s someone like me, who has been a long-time pack-a-day smoker and wants to pick up running but doesn’t think they’ll be able to.

My answer would be: don’t wait.

Smoking was awful for me, but what would be even worse is if I allowed that bad habit to become an excuse for me not to pick up a good habit. That kind of thinking would justify stalling any efforts to improve myself.

Instead, I chose to start running even as I continued to work on giving up smoking.

Did smoking interfere with my ability to run well? Of course, it did. The months that I ran as a smoker were always harder. I couldn’t breathe as easily, I ran slower, and I couldn’t last as long.

Despite those struggles though, I still could run. I could even continue to improve my endurance and speed, but at a more gradual rate than if I hadn’t been smoking.

A New Motivation

These unnecessarily difficult runs were also immeasurably helpful to me because they were giving me a new motivation to quit smoking.

One of the things that has made quitting smoking so difficult for me is that in the short-term, the negative symptoms of withdrawal have felt like they outweighed the positive physical changes.

Of course, I know the horrendous impact that smoking has on long-term health, but it’s hard to focus on those effects when they feel so far in the future.

Running has given me a way to experience an immediate positive impact on my health as soon as I stop smoking. Within just a few days after my last cigarette, my runs already felt easier. I know that my speed and endurance is improving as well.

I’m also less tempted to go back to smoking because I know that I’ll immediately notice the impact that it has on my runs. I want to keep improving as a runner, and I can’t deny that smoking would lead me several steps back.

Running isn’t a magic-bullet cure that has made quitting smoking easy, but it certainly has provided a tremendous amount of motivation.

I’m thankful that I didn’t let smoking get in the way of running. Instead of using a bad habit as an excuse to avoid a good one, I’ve used a good habit as a tool to drop the bad one.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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