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How to exercise after quitting smoking

Dr Luke Powles
Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK
24 August 2021

If you’ve recently quit smoking, you should feel proud of the important step you’ve taken for your health. You might now feel motivated to make other positive changes too – such as getting more active. But how long does it take to regain your fitness, and is it even safe to exercise after quitting smoking? Here, I'll answer some of these common questions.

Will exercise help me quit smoking?

Quitting smoking and getting more active often go hand and hand. It might be that giving up smoking has made you more aware of your health and keen to make other changes. You may feel motivated to get more active if you’re already starting to feel healthier too.

A review of research from the Cochrane Library found that there’s not enough evidence to say exercise can help you quit. But you may well find that it helps to distract you from the urge to smoke and reduces your cravings. Exercise can make you feel better mentally too, which can really help if you’re struggling to quit.

When is it safe to start exercising after quitting smoking?

You can start exercising as soon as you feel ready. You don’t even need to wait until you’ve quit smoking to start exercising. However, you may find it harder to exercise if you’re still smoking, as you’re likely to get out of breath more quickly.

The benefits of giving up smoking start straight away. Within a few days, oxygen levels in your blood will be returning to normal. You may start to find it easier to breathe. It will gradually get easier to exercise over time, as your heart and lung function continue to improve.

How much exercise should I do?

The key is to build up the amount of exercise you do gradually. That’s the same for anyone who’s just getting started with exercise. But as a recent smoker, you may need to pay particular attention to your heart and lung health. Rather than going straight into a high-intensity gym or training session, start slow and small. Perhaps begin with some gentle walking sessions, before building up the duration and intensity of your exercise.

Eventually, 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate-intensity activity over the course of a week is a good target to aim for. Moderate-intensity means anything that gets you warm and a little out of breath – like a brisk walk, cycling or heavy gardening. But don’t worry about reaching that target straight away. Any activity you do is better than none. Focus on how you can be more active generally and build exercise into your daily life.

How long until my fitness improves?

You’re likely to see improvements in your fitness within weeks of giving up smoking as your circulation and lung function start to improve. These will continue to get better as the months go on – giving you a great incentive to keep going.

Getting fit following quitting smoking can take time, but keep at it. You’ll have made not one, but two major improvements to your health. And your body will thank you for it!


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Dr Luke Powles
Dr Luke Powles
Clinical Director, Health Clinics Bupa Global and UK

    • Ussher MH, Faulkner GEJ, Angus K, et al. Exercise interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019(10). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002295.pub6. www.cochranelibrary.com
    • Physical activity guidelines: UK Chief Medical Officers' report. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, published 7 September 2019
    • Tobacco health benefits of smoking cessation. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published 25 February 2020
    • Etter JF. Short-term change in self-reported COPD symptoms after smoking cessation in an internet sample. European Respiratory Journal 2010; 35(6):1249–1255. doi:10.1183/09031936.00090509

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