How to Start Running For Smokers

It is no secret that smoking can take quite a toll on your lungs. Especially if you have been smoking for years – or maybe even decades – you might find it challenging to get into the rhythm of an active lifestyle. One of the most significant setbacks you might face is being able to run well as a smoker. So, how should you approach this process?

To start running as a smoker, start slow, pace yourself and take note of your physical condition. The best method is you try and get into a routine. 

Read on to find out how to start running as a smoker. It is not always an easy task, but if you take the proper precautions to prepare your body for an active routine, it is possible to take up running as a smoker. To do this successfully, you must be determined to improve your health.

Can I start running if I smoke?

Before you begin trying to run as a smoker, it is crucial to understand why this journey is different from running as a non-smoker. Smoking poses several health risks for all people and pushing yourself to get into shape as a routine smoker can be a daunting task.

Some smokers who begin running for exercise, distraction, or whatever else might not feel side effects as severe as others, but that does not mean that the risks are not present.

As a smoker, your lungs are theoretically guaranteed to be in worse condition than a non-smoker.

Below is a list of ways in which smoking can damage your lungs, as well as an explanation showing how these damages can lessen your ability to run well.


Hemoglobin carries oxygen to your lungs. While it is necessary to have a sufficient amount to achieve this process, smoking can significantly raise your hemoglobin levels. This might sound good, but smoking causes carbon monoxide to attach to the excess hemoglobin, preventing you from getting the necessary amount of oxygen in your lungs.


Endorphins are a “happy” hormone that your body releases into your nervous system. One of the reasons cigarettes are so addictive is because they raise your endorphin levels, giving you very temporary satisfaction. 

Exercising also raises your endorphin levels, but as the effects are achieved through physical effort, it can be much less appealing to work for the endorphins.

Can smokers be good runners?

Smokers have a substantially lessened lung capacity compared to non-smokers, so if you are a smoker trying to run, you might not be aware of side effects that prevent you from performing to your potential.

These health risks can be a significant cause for concern if you are a smoker starting to run. Without healthy hemoglobin carrying oxygen to your lungs, carbon monoxide can further damage them. By being familiar with the temporary endorphin rush of cigarettes, you might find it difficult to work for a more healthy way to release endorphins. With a lessened lung capacity, you will not be able to exercise to the extent that you might wish.

These side effects can make your journey from a smoker to a runner extremely difficult. However, the following steps will better prepare your body to go about this process more healthily.

Is it OK to exercise if you smoke?

One of the most essential parts of how to start running for smokers is by pacing yourself. After you understand how your lungs are likely at a disadvantage compared to non-smokers, you will have a better idea of the precautions you need to take. 

Running as a smoker is not impossible, but it can present major obstacles that you must get around. If your body has things inside of it that put a barrier between maximum physical health and yourself, you will have to make adjustments to your exercise routine.

Perhaps years before you began smoking, you had no problem getting in an intense workout with little to no pain. Now, however, you find it difficult to keep that same energy you once had. This is common for smokers. Below are a few examples of ways to start slow if you want to run as a smoker.

Pace Yourself

When you first start off, do not feel like you have to run intensely or for an extended distance right off of the bat. If you push yourself to extreme limits, it can cause more health risks in the future.

Start slowly. Maybe just walk or jog lightly for a mile. Get your body used to activities that raise your heartbeat and require larger amounts of oxygen.

As time progresses, you can attempt to push yourself a little further. You might consider jogging the entire time and even trying a bit of a faster pace for intervals at a time.

Mind Your Physical Condition

As you ease into the activity of running, keep your health in mind. If you feel that you are not working yourself too intensely but still suffer side effects, slow your pace even more.

If you work slowly, you can reach your goals eventually. The process is not always going to pan out as perfectly as you might have hoped.

One of the major benefits of taking it slow at first is that you can monitor your condition. If you go head-first into intense exercises, you might not be able to tell the difference between internal problems from general fatigue of being active.

Adjust to Your Own Ability

Everyone’s experiences are different; it is cliché but true. You have to find the pace that works best for you. If that means taking it slow for longer than you wish, that is something you are going to have to get used to.

The toll that smoking can take on your body puts you at a major disadvantage to non-smokers. You might be irritated that people around you are progressing in their fitness much quicker than you. Becoming discouraged from a circumstance such as this will not make you feel any better, so try to keep your mind focused on your progress.

Get Into a Routine

Even for non-smokers, one of the most effective ways to get into shape is finding the motivation to get into a routine. Especially for smokers, however, this might prove even more beneficial. 

Circling back to the release of endorphins, running can cause a much more lasting and worthwhile endorphin rush when paralleled with smoking. But with the addictive nature of cigarettes, it can often be much easier to sit down and light up instead of getting yourself to go for a run.

If you have trouble finding the motivation to get into a routine, a few methods might help you. Of course, many people cannot give up cigarettes “cold-turkey” style, which is entirely understandable. Try some of these techniques:

Substitute a Smoke Break for a Run

If you get the itch for a cigarette, try to convince yourself to go on a run instead. You will benefit by getting into better shape, and in turn, gaining a release of endorphins much healthier than that of a nicotine intake.

Get Active to Stay Busy

If you find it extremely hard to resist smoking, consider going on a:

  • Brisk walk
  • Energetic jog
  • All out run, if you can

To get your mind off it for a while. In doing so, you are taking a chunk out of your day that you might have spent smoking a couple of cigarettes.

Understand Other Benefits

The idea of how to start running as a smoker can be a scary thought. You probably know the disadvantages you face, but it can be just as daunting to do something about it. 

After starting slow, keep in mind the positive benefits that are changing in your body. While running can distract you from smoking, it can also begin to get your internal body back into shape.

Finding the motivation to run is one of the most challenging parts of getting into a routine. However, with pace and organization, you will find that the temporary pain is worth the lasting relief.

Set Goals

Another great way for smokers to start running is by setting daily or weekly goals. Convince yourself to get active a certain number of times a week for a certain amount of time each day. As long as you reach your goal for that day or week, you will gain more confidence and thus be better suited to continue your journey.

Perhaps your goals involve going a certain distance, accomplishing a distance in a set amount of time, or using your time for running to note how many smoke-breaks you are avoiding during the day. Whatever the case may be, setting and achieving personal goals can be a beneficial way to push through the difficulty of how to start running as a smoker.


How to start running for smokers is far from easy. The health risks that smoking can cause will likely make it much more challenging to go about running as quickly as others do, or even as easily as you could years ago. If you focus on knowing the conditions you are facing, approaching the task slowly, finding a routine, and reaching personal goals, running as a smoker can be much more attainable.

About Me

Hey, I'm Mark and I've been running for around eight years. I'm by no means an elite runner. I'm in the mid-pack, doing what I can to improve and learn along the way.

I've learnt a few tricks along the which I share on this website and my Instagram: