What do we know already?
It’s no surprise, then, that recent studies have suggested that the early signs of COPD are that people are less physically active or become very out of breath when they exercise. But what about smokers who don’t have COPD? Does smoking affect their ability to exercise? Or is the relationship between smoking and exercise more complicated than that? For example, do smokers simply ‘feel’ less like exercising?One of the many ways smoking causes harm is by damaging thelungs and causing lung disease. For example, about 9 in 10 people who have a serious lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are, or have been, heavy smokers.
This study compared 60 smokers with no breathing problems with 50 people who didn’t smoke and who were of a similar age, sex, and physique. All the people in the study wore a machine called a step-counter (a pedometer). It recorded how many steps they took over six days. This was used as a measure of how physically active they were.
The researchers also tested how well people’s lungs were working, and how far they could walk in six minutes on a treadmill. Finally, the people in the study completed a questionnaire about their health and quality of life.
What does the new study say?
People who smoked walked fewer steps in an average day (7,923) than people who didn’t smoke (9,553). The researchers say the fact that smokers were less physically active could be explained by their other findings. People who smoked weren’t able to breathe as well, and weren’t able to walk as far in the six-minute walk test. Smokers were also less motivated to exercise than people who didn’t smoke.
People who smoked had a poorer quality of life and were more likely to have anxietyor depression than people who didn’t smoke. However, the researchers couldn’t say what may have come first - whether people became depressed or anxious because they smoked, or if they smoked because of their anxiety.
Both smokers and non-smokers who weren’t physically active (who took less than 8,000 steps a day) could walk about the same distance in six minutes on a treadmill. But people who smoked felt more tired at the end of the test.
How reliable is the research?
This study used some reliable methods. Using pedometers to measure people’s average amount of physical activity is generally more reliable than using questionnaires. And testing how well people’s lungs worked is more accurate than relying only on asking people how out of breath they feel. But we can’t draw too many conclusions about the effects of smoking from such a small study.
What does this mean for me?
The researchers say this is the first study to find that people who smoke are less physically active than people who don’t smoke even before they develop lung problems or lung diseases. The results suggest that even smokers who don’t have lung diseases like COPD may already have some lung damage that reduces their ability to exercise. Then there is the question of motivation: it may be that some people smoke because they are unhappy or anxious, and that makes them less likely to exercise. A small study like this one can’t answer all these questions, but it does raise some interesting ones.
If you would like help to stop smoking, your doctor or practice nurse will be happyto help.