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Smoking and Metabolism

How to Boost Metabolism When you Stop Smoking

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Updated July 09, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

How Smoking Affects Metabolism
Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Metabolism describes the physical and chemical processes that create and use energy within a living cell or organism. How our bodies break down the food we eat and convert it to energy is a function of metabolism. Metabolic rate describes how fast these processes occur. Approximately 70% of the calories we burn each day are used to keep our organs working properly.

Cigarette Smoking and Metabolism

Cigarette smoking increases a person's metabolic rate in part by forcing the heart to beat faster. When a cigarette is inhaled, the smoker's heart may beat 10 to 20 times more per minute for a period of time. This causes extra stress on the heart and plays a role in heart disease, the most common cause of smoking-related death.

And think about this: A smoking habit of 20 cigarettes a day puts approximately the same amount of stress on the heart as 90 pounds of extra weight would. When we stop smoking, heart rate slows down somewhat, causing metabolism to dip a bit as well.

While shifts in metabolism, along with dietary changes, can signal a slight weight gain, we can take steps to build our metabolic rate back up in ways that benefit our health rather than destroy it, as smoking does. If weight gain due to smoking cessation is something you fear or is a reality you're struggling with, use the tips below to help you keep your weight stable as you recover from nicotine addiction.

Using Exercise to Boost Metabolism and Minimize Weight Gain

  • Exercise burns calories and boosts metabolism for up to 24 hours after working out.
  • Nicotine use triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Exercise also releases this same brain chemical, but in a healthy way that allows us to enjoy the pleasant effects of dopamine without risking our health to do it.
  • Exercise breaks down fat and releases it into the bloodstream. This works to curb feelings of hunger.

Increasing your level of daily activity provides other important benefits as well.

Exercise has been shown to:

  • Slow bone loss associated with advancing age

Tips to Add More Activity to Daily Tasks

Be sure to check in with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen, especially if you aren't accustomed to being active.

  • Take five.
    The next time you feel tense or have the urge to smoke, head out for a brisk 5-minute walk up the street and back. It works wonders for snapping you out of a bad mood and gets your heart pumping too.
  • Park at the back of the lot.
    Don't patrol the parking lot looking for the space that is closest to the entrance of the building. Head for the back of the lot and take advantage of the opportunity to add a few more steps to your day.
  • Use the stairs.
    Even if you climb the stairs every other time you need to move from one level to another, you're benefiting your health and helping your waistline.
  • Get your hands dirty.
    Otherwise known as gardening, digging in the dirt is good for the spirit. And yes, it burns calories too.
  • Breathe deep and embrace your yard work.
    Everything from mowing the lawn to raking leaves counts as exercise, and potentially a significant amount at that.
  • Use housework as a tool.
    While this may not be the way you'd prefer to get your exercise, housework is a part of daily life for just about all of us. Make the most of yours by doing your household chores at a strong, steady pace. You'll burn more calories than you might imagine.

Sporting Activities
Try to schedule time for sports a few times a week as you move through the process of recovery from nicotine addiction. If you don't have a favorite sport, now would be a good time to start something new. Walking and swimming are two low-impact activities that are good for just about everyone. And remember, be sure to get your doctor's approval before committing to a new exercise routine.

Swimming
Swimming is a very low impact way to exercise your body and refresh yourself at the same time. If you don't have a local club that offers public swims, check with area hotels. They often allow non-guests to use their pool/exercise facilities for a small fee.

Dancing
Whether it's in your living room to a piece of favorite music, or a night out at the club with friends, dancing is a fun way to be active. You don't have to be a good dancer to enjoy this form of exercise and burn lots of calories while you're at it. Walking
A good pair of walking shoes is the only equipment you need to get started with this form of exercise. Walk the neighborhood on sunny days, or, if the weather is bad, walk the circumference of the mall. Or use a treadmill to get your daily steps in indoors. Bicycling
Bicycling is a wonderful way to work your body while enjoying the benefits of being outdoors. Pack a water bottle and a light snack, and head out on your bike to explore your surroundings. Strength Training
Especially important for those of us who are getting older, strength training builds muscle mass and slows bone loss while boosting metabolic rate. Yoga
Yoga improves balance while strengthening the body. It also benefits mood by helping us let go of stress that we often unconsciously carry along with us day to day. If you've never tried yoga, follow the link below to learn more about it. Every little bit of movement counts when it comes to counteracting the effects of smoking cessation-related weight gain, not to mention benefiting overall health. Be creative and committed to incorporating regular exercise into your life, and think of physical activity as an important tool in your smoking cessation toolbox. Use it to boost metabolism, mood, and ultimately, your motivation to succeed at booting the butts out of your life, once and for all.

Source:

The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. 11 January 2007. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

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