If you’re contemplating quitting smoking, you are probably well aware of the health benefits already – reduced risk of various cancers, lung disease, heart disease and stroke – but did you know that it is also a good way to help you achieve six pack abs? The chemicals found in cigarette smoke that are detrimental to health also impair your body’s ability to build muscle. Read on to find out more about how stopping smoking could be one of the key steps to help you achieve the six pack you have always wanted.

Quit Smoking

You need to breathe easy

Shortness of breath is characteristic of smokers, particularly on exercise, which is the time when you need to be able to rely on good lung function the most. It doesn’t just reduce your ability to take in sufficient oxygen, but it limits how long and how hard you can train – both essential determinants for your journey to a six pack. However, quit smoking and after three days free from the cigarettes, breathing will start to become easier and over the coming weeks and months, so too will training.

Muscles need oxygen

It’s well known that smoking reduces oxygen levels in the body, but how does this happen and how does this relate to working out? Haemoglobin – the blood’s carrier for oxygen – is attracted to carbon-monoxide in cigarette smoke more strongly than it does to oxygen. Not only this, but the coating of tar on the lungs reduces the elastic-nature of the air sacs, so the passage of oxygen from the lungs to the blood is also affected by this mechanism. This means less oxygen is absorbed from the lungs into the blood, so there is less oxygen carried around the body. All tissues, including muscle, require oxygen to respire – the process that allows them to release energy, which is essential for them to function and is increased during exercise and activity – so less oxygen is able to be absorbed by the muscles for this to occur. When respiration is affected, so too is performance; muscles are unable to contract so effectively, which impairs your ability to work out. It reaches a stage where your muscle cells receive so little oxygen that they are forced to respire anaerobically, the by-product of which is lactic acid and when this builds up, you are forced to stop whatever activity it is that you are engaged in. In short you are not able to train for as long or at such a high intensity as would be required to develop a good six pack. However, stop smoking and within a day oxygen levels in the blood will have returned to normal; keep this up and your ability to train will be much enhanced.

A good blood supply is vital

Smoking can reduce blood flow in two ways. Firstly, due to the deposit of plaques on the walls of arteries, this causes them to narrow. Then secondly, your heart rate is increased when you smoke, causing your blood pressure to rise and consequently there is decreased blood flow. Your circulation carries blood everywhere in your body, not just providing your cells with oxygen, but providing nutrients, hormones and growth factors to where they are needed. The provision of muscle cells with glucose is essential for respiration, but they also require vitamins, minerals and growth factors for growth, repair and to maintain optimal health. Without a good supply of these, as happens when you smoke, your muscles are not able to function and grow to their full potential. However, the good news is that within 12 weeks of being smoke free your circulation will have begun to improve and you will start to see this in your training.

Many people worry about the potential weight gain that can occur once they kick the habit – usually due to the combination of a return of appetite with an improvement in taste and smell, a reduction in metabolism and reaching for nibbles to stave off cravings for cigarettes – but working out significantly reduces the chance of this happening. Exercise not only maintains your metabolism and keeps your mind off food, but it can also help to boost your mood and keep you focused on your aim; you won’t be reaching for the cigarettes again.

Jake writes fitness articles for those looking to lose weight, quit smoking or change their lives for the better.