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The question of whether it's a good or bad idea to smoke after exercise is one that most North Americans would find rather odd. People in the US and Canada are told, and most accept, that lighting up a cigarette at any time is unhealthy. However, in other parts of the world, people often smoke after or even during exercise, and the question of the effects of the practice is a legitimate one.

I'll stick to the facts and let you make up your own mind about whether you want to smoke, whether it is after a workout or any other time.

Smoking immediately after exercise has immediate effects on the cardiovascular system, and they aren't good.

Researchers with a scientific consortium involving physicians in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and New Zealand measured the physiological effects of smoking immediately after exercise. The main effect of smoking was on the veins, not the arteries. That is, smoking after a workout didn't interfere with the ability of the heart to send blood out to the rest of the body as it interfered with the ability of the rest of the body to send blood back to the heart.

The core of the body continued to get needed oxygen and nutrients, but muscles did not. This means that lighting up after exercise does not increase the risk of, say, a heart attack, but it keeps muscles from getting nutrients they need in the critical two hours after exercise.

For just a few hours, muscles that have been exercised become up to 50 times more sensitive to insulin. This helps them absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream. They combine the glucose with water to make glycogen, which is what "pumps" up a muscle. If you smoke after you work out, your muscles don't get a chance to grow in ways that you intend. Smoking cancels out a lot of what exercise does for you in terms of muscle growth. The worse shape you are in, the more smoking interferes with muscle growth.

The nicotine in tobacco is more potent immediately after exercise.

Another effect of smoking is a significant change in how the body responds to nicotine. The reason it feels so good to smoke after working out is that the nicotine in the tobacco keeps the heart working hard even during your cool down. A stronger pulse is associated with a happier, more energetic and even sexier mood. This is not especially harmful unless you have heart disease, in which case it can be deadly.

Smoking immediately after exercise does not have any special effects on lung capacity.

Smoking reduces lung capacity. However, there is no special disadvantage to smoking immediately after exercise, once you have caught your breath. With regard to this health concern, the effects of smoking are more long-term.

Wanting to light up after a workout is more about habit than exercise itself.

Scientific studies have found that exercise does not increase cravings for cigarettes. If you want to light up after you spend some time on the track, taking a walk, or doing exercises, it's more a matter of habit than the exercise itself. You don't have to stop exercising to quit the habit, but you can't blame exercise on your nicotine cravings, either.

If you do smoke, exercise is good for you.

Even if smoking isn't causing you any health problems yet, exercise will help you stay healthy longer. Exercise lowers systolic blood pressure (the "top" number) in young smokers, and helps the heart speed up and slow down appropriately in response to stress. Exercise partially offsets some of the detrimental cardiovascular effects of smoking.

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