This is a question I thought we might have a reason to look into. It seems to me now that there are a lot of smokers in the UK, most of all on the roads. When you are stuck in a jam, if you look left and right you very often see smokers. Now I do not know if there has been an increase in secret smoking here in the UK but according to all of the official figures, we smoke a fraction of the cigarettes we were smoking in, say 1980, but as I see smokers around it seems fair that we should mention it.
There are some individuals, even at fairly high levels of the activity, that combine exercise and smoking successfully (so they say) and compete side-by-side with other athletes in events such as triathlons either secretly as a smoker, or as a fellow athlete that just happens to smoke. The latest figure suggest that in the UK around 1.5% of athletes are secret smokers and another 4.5% are smoking in a corner after a race. The questions are, is this worse than being a normal smoker or better? And, is there a noticeable difference in performance when comparing these smokers to other athletes?
Smoking is an activity bound with risk, and these risks are reduced drastically almost immediately upon quitting. There is no "It's too late for me." when it comes to smoking as stopping today will help you live a better, longer life tomorrow. But there are other facts that may be a little more surprising. The figures show that a fit and active smoker is less likely to contract cancer than a smoker that doesn't exercise regularly. This may be in part to the fact that more active smokers seems to enjoy slightly clearer lungs, or it may be that their immune systems are simply more effective. Either way it is the reverse of what I expected - I had imagined that high activity lungs facing cancer agents would contract disease more quickly.
Marathon runners who have run marathons whilst having been (yes they're out there) smokers and also whilst having quit have reported that after having stopped smoking they feel that their lung capacity is greatly improved and their tiredness reduced. A study examining the effects of smoking cessation found fitness improvements after even a week. A group of young men who smoked roughly twenty cigarettes per day for 3-4 years were subjected to several tests while on an exercise bike both before quitting, and then a week afterwards. The study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, showed pulmonary functions not to be significantly improved, whilst oxygen concentration had increased considerably, and as such, exercise time was greatly extended.
Even though some smokers claim that they do not feel the effects of smoking when running, smoking is a accumulative effect and smokers may not become aware of the changes that it has made to their body until they realise they have a serious problem. The industrial grade solvents and that enable nicotine delivery to be as immediate as possible which are present in all cigarette smoke reduce the effectiveness of the lungs in general and the day you give up, you will notice improvements every day after that.