“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it a thousand times.”
So said the great American writer Mark Twain, playing on the fact that so many smokers have tried countless times to kick their habit.
I recently made an executive decision to give nicotine the elbow, and had many good reasons for this lifestyle change – but my number one concern was my health.
I found myself most days on the way to university struggling to make it up the stairs at Elephant & Castle tube station. It left me totally breathless and I felt embarrassed to be gasping for air after stumbling through the exit barrier.
But smoking is a difficult addiction to knock on the head – it goes hand-in-hand with caffeine, alcohol and after any meal. Nearly 20 percent of adults smoke in the UK, but could I join the ranks of those who have managed to give up?
My battle to quit was quite short but unbelievably difficult. Spending countless nights outside pubs with friends blowing smoke in my face was torture, especially with a cold pint in my hand.
“The problem with smoking is that you need an incentive to give up”
I started smoking as a 15-year-old at boarding school. I succumbed to peer pressure and before I knew it I was smoking 20 a day. I was young, naïve and thought I could climb some sort of social ladder by going down to the golf course and indulging in small talk with the older boys while lighting up.
This stupid decision to start smoking has come back to haunt me because my general health has suffered. I played five-a-side football for a while but was eventually demoted to rolling sub because I couldn’t handle more than two minutes at a time.
The problem with smoking is that you need an incentive to give up. A person needs motivation or a particularly important reason to give up. It could be anything from children to money or health.
For smokers, sport or physical activity is supposed to replace chemicals in the body that are similar to nicotine. ‘Displacement activity’ it is called and it’s believed that when engaging in physical exercise your mind is distracted from the craving.
“As my fitness improved, I also found my bank balance looking a lot healthier”
Also, smokers who play sport have a much greater chance to get injured because of lack of oxygen in the blood stream. Smoking reduces strength in the bones and means the body longer to heal.
So having decided to give up, I stuck with it, and after a few months I realised how much cleaner my body felt. I found myself not out of breath after tackling stairs, and could run for much longer periods when playing sport.
And as my fitness improved, I also found my bank balance looking a lot healthier. When you are spending £6-7 a day on cigarettes, quitting really does make a massive difference financially.
I also no longer stand outside in all types of weather inhaling toxins into my body, but watch as other people step out to feed their addiction.
And it’s odd hearing friends and acquaintances discussing their habit, fitting their lives around something they know is bad for them.
“It’s playing sport where I have really noticed the difference”
“I struggle playing hockey week in week out being a smoker – thank God I only play once a week,” said Sam Townsend who is a regular player for his Brighton club.
Of course, giving up smoking massively decreases your risk of cancer and heart disease, but it also also improves your complexion, plus your dental health improves and your hair and clothes stop smelling like an ashtray.
But it’s playing sport where I have really noticed the difference.
I can now actually put in more than a two-minute shift in my local five-a-side league.
Giving up has also given me confidence in my stamina to play more than once every couple of weeks, and I can actually track back to defend as well, instead of giving up halfway through a run.
This drastic lifestyle change has really opened up my eyes to how utterly pointless smoking was.
It didn’t improve anything about the way I lived my life. I advise any smokers out there to just knock the habit on the head. It really is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons. For more information about giving up smoking, visit NHS Smokefree