This article was originally written for my column the week my mom died from complications of lung cancer, and was dedicated to her memory.
Those of you who smoke, please don’t ditch me here. Hang in with me. I write this with love in my heart. To prove that I understand the powerful urge to smoke I am coming clean and outing myself. I was a smoker, and it was my love of physical activity that inspired me to quit for good.
Physical Activity Can Make It Easier To Quit Smoking
Lung Cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality among both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society smoking causes about 87% of lung cancer deaths.* Smoking is the cause of a host of other diseases, including emphysema, heart disease and vascular disease. Quitting at any age can lower your risk of developing lung cancer, even if you have smoked for many years.
Quitting is not easy. Nicotine, the drug fond in tobacco, is highly addictive. The habit is so powerful that after experiencing the loss of a loved one from emphysema or lung people, some people still cannot kick the habit. Even if they want to, and know they need to.
The best advice is never to start smoking, but for those who already smoke, quitting is one of the hardest habits a person will ever need to break. Ask anyone who has nicotine fits between smokes, or has ever tried to quit. In fact, ask me. In an effort to convince others to quit and prevent young people from starting, I share my personal experience with smoking cessation. I know how difficult it is.
I started smoking when cigarettes were fifty cents a pack and teenagers were permitted to purchase cigarettes in a grocery store. Television commercials glamorized smoking, and hunky mustached men on horseback on billboards made it ‘too cool’ not to smoke.
I smoked for a few years and during that period in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s I had many bouts with bronchitis. I quit several times- only to reconstruct broken cigarettes that were crumpled during my vows never to smoke again. I urge smokers not to give up- keep quitting until you have quit for good. Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times”
It was physical fitness that helped me make the best decision of my life- giving up cigarettes. I have not had bronchitis since.
I was a young woman of twenty six and came home from work to find the elevator in my Manhattan high-rise out of order. Forced to climb the twenty five flights of stairs to my apartment, I stopped every couple of flights to catch my breath
I needed no further convincing, as I always loved physical activity and was astounded by the proof of my limited pulmonary function. I quit for good and took up running. I replaced a bad habit with a good one. The natural high that comes from completing a workout also kept cravings at bay. I also found it impossible to smoke if I was jogging or shooting hoops.
One day the cravings went away forever. Instead of nicotine I craved exercise and oxygen in my lungs. I did not gain weight as a result of breaking the smoking habit. Exercise kept my metabolism up and my waistline down.
As little as 30 minutes of exercise a day will help fight the urge to smoke, and help you to build physical strength and endurance. You can add years to your life, and quality to those years.
The American Cancer Society offers the following tips to help you stop smoking:
§ When you decide to quit- do not smoke. This means at all- not even one puff.
§ Keep active- try walking, exercising or doing other activities or hobbies.
§ Drink lots of water and juices.
§ Begin using nicotine replacement if that is your choice.
§ Attend stop-smoking class or start following a self-help plan.
§ Avoid situations where the urge to smoke is strong.
§ Reduce or avoid alcohol.
§ Think about changing your routine. Use a different route to work. Drink tea instead of coffee. Eat breakfast in a different place or eat different foods.
* These statistics and guidelines were posted on the ACS website at the time this original article was written in April, 2007.