Each of my clients face different challenges in getting healthy. For some it's changing a lifetime of bad eating habits, for many it's quitting smoking. I am actually quite surprised at how many people I see light up in their cars after a work out. Occasionally I will bump into someone from the gym around town and catch them in the act. A lot of times they act as if they were caught in the middle of a crime. It's obvious that people are aware of the negative aspects of smoking and nicotine, yet they still do it.
I am not going to hit you over the head and preach to you about quitting. You already know that you should. I am sure you are aware that a smoker will develop lung cancer, heart disease, or some other ailment eventually, no matter how much you think you can out run it. The fine lines around your lips that keep getting deeper and the teeth that are yellowing just serve as a reminder in the mirror every morning of whats to come.
But if you are here reading this article, you are making the first step in quitting by searching out information and help. So that's what I am going to give you. First, it's important to understand what nicotine is doing to your body. Smoking leeches vitamins out of the body, important ones like vitamins C. E, and A which are essential in supporting the immune system which is probably why smokers are more prone to flu and sickness. Their immune systems are just always running on empty. That doesn't give an exercise routine much chance of survival.
When quitting smoking, start out by changing your diet to include more foods that are rich in these vital vitamins. Broccoli, lettuce, and leafy greens are a great start. Carrots are a good source of vitamins A, B, C, and K all of which can help restore some of the damage done to your skin. Add fruits to you diet as well. Things like pomegranate, berries, and kiwi taste great and contain plenty of nutrients to help in your quest to quit.
Now as I am sure you are aware (and afraid of) quitting smoking is not an easy task. I have never smoked, but based on people I have known and talked to about their efforts to quit, it's probably just as hard to quit as crack! The thing with smoking is that it's a slow killer, which gives people the false sense that they have a control over their addiction and can give it up easily. Then they use it as an excuse or write off the dangers with an attitude of "well (insert major medical problem) won't happen to me because i'll quit before it does".
As you quit, it's natural to develop a replacement addiction. A lot of people turn to food when they quit smoking which adds weight and leads towards other problems. So to fight that urge to eat - try exercise and develop a healthy addiction. It will not be easy at first since your lungs will have a lower capacity, and I'm sure you will have headaches and even feel dizzy or light headed at times. I have seen clients walking a tread mill looking like they were going to faint. The sudden need for oxygen was a demand their lungs had trouble meeting after years of nicotine abuse. Take it slow but stay vigilant in maintaining an exercise routine. It will help restore the lung capacity you once had, helps to energize your body, keeps your mind off of the withdrawal, and helps do something very important - flush the nicotine out of your system.
Nicotine takes anywhere from one to three days to leave the body. Three days tops? Quitting should be easy right? Sorry, it's not that easy to just flush it out. Nicotine builds up in your body as a byproduct called cotinine which can take up to 30 days to leave your system. Think about it - years of abuse will not magically go away overnight. Exercise will help to speed up your metabolism to aid that process, and the sweat producing workouts will help as well.
Along with a healthy diet and exercise program, water will be your new best friend. Drink it all day every day to help flush the nicotine toxins, hydrate you for workouts, and to help replace the urge to put a cigarette in your mouth. Many of the clients I interviewed for this article told me that the long term challenge they faced was the urge to do something. Smoking became very mechanical, a habit, and those who did manage to quit smoking have told me that years later, even after they no longer really had any cravings for a cigarette, still felt an urge like an oral fixation. The need to put something in their mouth. Some use gum as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. Others have told me that drinking a lot of water helped fight the urge to smoke. No, it's not quite the same, but it may be the edge you need to give up smoking for good.
On the topic of gum, many try nicotine gums and patches. Honestly, I have talked to a lot of people who have tried these and every single one started smoking again very soon after. Both the patches and gums contain low doses of nicotine with the idea of weening you off of it slowly. The problem is that a little bit of nicotine is always in your system to remind you of how good it feels, so your body never gets to forget the feeling. So I think it makes it that much more of an uphill battle to quit. Try the cold turkey approach. Set a goal of first getting through the day, then a week, then a month. If you can get through that month until your body is flushed and clean you will feel so much better. Just be honest with yourself about what effort you are putting into quitting - changing your diet, eating healthier and drinking water - and there is no reason you cannot quit smoking! I believe in you.
Brooke Bailey is a personal trainer, masseuse, and student in health and wellness. She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Follow her on Facebook.