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News

Smokers who exercise reduce risk of heart attack

University Of Texas At Austin : 02 February, 2006  (Technical Article)
Even if you cannot stop smoking, you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by exercising regularly, according to a University of Texas at Austin study. Examining otherwise healthy sedentary smokers and physically active smokers, Dr. Hiro Tanaka, an exercise physiologist in the College of Education, discovered that the smokers who exercised had increased blood flow to the legs.
Even if you cannot stop smoking, you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by exercising regularly, according to a University of Texas at Austin study.

Examining otherwise healthy sedentary smokers and physically active smokers, Dr. Hiro Tanaka, an exercise physiologist in the College of Education, discovered that the smokers who exercised had increased blood flow to the legs.

Cigarette smoking causes a distinct, immediate decrease in blood flow to the legs because blood vessels going to the legs become constricted. Over time, this can lead to peripheral artery disease and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, amputation or death.

“My imagination was captured and I decided to research this topic when I saw a John Cougar Mellencamp special on VH1,” says Tanaka, who is in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. “Mellencamp was a heavy smoker and had a heart attack, and even though he was a thin guy and not that old, the cigarettes were doing him in. Although he couldn’t let go of the cigarettes, he started exercising regularly and his health improved.

“In our study, we were looking at fairly young individuals, between 19 and 32, and those who were doing just eight hours of exercise a week were significantly reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack. I smoked and know how difficult it is to give up something that addictive, but if a smoker can go ahead and initiate an exercise routine as she attempts to give up the habit, she’ll start enjoying the benefits of the exercise even before she puts down her last cigarette.”

All subjects chosen for the study had been smoking at least eight to 10 cigarettes a day for at least two years preceding the study and most of the physically active participants were running, biking or swimming.

Tanaka noted that a surprisingly high percentage of chronic smokers in the U.S., between 18 and 33 percent in various parts of the country, already exercise regularly, suggesting that the implementation of a positive lifestyle change may be much more practical than the elimination of a negative one.

“People smoke and they completely lose hope,” says Tanaka. “Everyone thinks that ‘exercising smoker’ is an oxymoron, but now we know that there’s a tremendous incentive to take control of your health and get up and get moving even if you can’t stop smoking right away.”
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