In today’s society, smoking can still be considered a world wide health epidemic. Despite a real push in recent years to reduce the amount of active smokers through various Government schemes, it appears that smoking and its deadly effects still affect millions of individuals and their families globally.

In the UK, Government initiatives such as the banning of smoking inside all public places, health public service announcements, enhanced taxes on cigarettes/tobacco, the creation of various health and support groups and the offering of reduction methods and physical alternatives might have slowed this movement, but ultimately individuals are still choosing to smoke day in, day out.

One particularly strange phenomenon is that of individuals who undertake health and fitness related activity on a frequent basis yet also choose to smoke cigarettes. If you were to put health and fitness and smoking cigarettes on a spectrum, they would absolutely fall at the opposite ends.

In fact, there aren’t many activities that could be considered more conflicting; one has the ability to prolong a life and the other an ability to kill you. This statement might seem bold but these really are the facts with which we are presented with.

Sandvik et al. (1993) previously concluded that physical performance is an important predictor of mortality from cardiovascular causes and other effects in men. Unsurprisingly, extensive research has highlighted that smoking enhances the rate of decline in the functioning of the lungs (Department of Human Services, 1984).

Although the dangers associated with smoking are apparent for all to see, the effects of long term smoking on overall physical performance is less evident. With this in mind, the purpose of this article is to consider this very topic of conversation.

Research Into The Effects Of Smoking On Physical Fitness

In 1995, Sandvik et al. published findings from their aptly titled research investigation ‘Long term effects of smoking on physical fitness and lung function; a longitudinal study of 1393 middle aged Norwegian men for seven years’. This extensive title divulges everything you need to know about the purpose and intent of this particular research investigation.

As part of this study, healthy males aged 40-59 years of age and who were employed by one of five companies in Olso, the capital of Norway, were asked to partake in a survey which included a cardiovascular examination.

Following this initial selection process, which occurred over a three year period, beginning in 1972 and ceasing in 1975, 2,014 males accepted the invitation to take part in this longitudinal study. Of the 2,014 males, 882 were classified as smokers and 1,132 as non-smokers. All participants were then left on average for 7.2 years before further contact was made.

Between 1980 and 1982 these original males were again contacted in order to undertake an identical examination. Of the original selected group of males, only 1,393 met the inclusion criteria and were allowed to continue with the investigation. During this second examination, detailed information was obtained from each male regarding smoking habits and regular physical activity undertaken.

All participants were then required to undertake an exercise test on an electrical bike to the point of exhaustion. The resistance of the bike was gradually incremented every six minutes and remained consistent for all participants.


Throughout this research investigation various physiological measurements were obtained, including blood pressure, heart rate and serum lipid concentration. Unsurprisingly, the following differences were observed, all of which were considered significant:

  • The baseline fitness levels were significantly higher amongst non-smokers when comparisons were drawn against smokers.
  • The seven year drop in fitness was significantly lower in non-smokers when comparisons were drawn against smokers.
Final Word

The results from this research investigation provide some hard hitting facts about the long term effects of smoking on an individual’s overall health and fitness levels. Furthermore, it can be argued that these findings, despite their relevance and significance, have still been somewhat watered down; during the second phase of the investigation, those individuals that had either deceased or developed disease were not allowed to partake any further in the investigation. A significant proportion of these males fell into the smoking category.

Consequently, if they had been allowed to continue, the effects of smoking on their respective fitness levels could have been even more prolific in favour of the non-smoking group.

Unsurprisingly, the findings from this research investigation echoed previous results from alternative studies contemplating this particular topic of interest. The key finding, shared amongst all research investigations was that lower physical performance levels were found in the smoking group when comparisons were drawn against that of the non-smoking group (Hoad and Clay, 1992).

The important take home message from this article, which has been reiterated through various research investigations, is that as an individual, you simply cannot expect to be able to smoke and perform at the peak of your physical capacity – it’s either one or the other.

Smoking significantly impacts upon both your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, limiting your fitness levels and ultimately your overall athletic potential. At the very least, all smokers can expect to experience a significant decline in their fitness levels and at the very worse, the decision to smoke could ultimately cost you your life. It really is that black and white.

For those of you active smokers out their currently reading this article, it doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom. On a more positive note, during this same research investigation, the men who stopped smoking during the interim testing period mimicked results of non-smokers during the second examination phase.

Conversely, the men who commenced smoking during this same interim period mimicked the results of smokers (Sandvik et al, 1995). This should give hope and determination to all smokers out there – it’s never too late to quit smoking. Not only can this strong decision be the driving force behind achieving new levels of fitness, but ultimately it could be a significant one for you and your family.