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Huffing and Puffing: Episode 8: How To Quit Smoking

As published at News957.com:

I never really expected to be able to say this, but exercise has become routine.

After nearly two months of making time to get out and move three times a week, it's become a regular part of my personal schedule. Saturday mornings, I get up and go join the Learn To Run For Smokers group at SMU; Tuesdays and Thursdays I make time to go for a 20-40 minute workout outside.

It's all become disturbingly normal for me. As an ordinarily sedentary guy, that's a big change.

Maybe that's why this week seemed so extraordinarily ordinary for me. The group workout had me at Point Pleasant Park for a gorgeous 40-minute brisk walk through trails and woods and along the waterfront. Tuesday and Thursday were 40-minute brisk walks to the store. Yes, I was going to buy cigarettes. The integration of something good with something bad gets the blessing from the team leader, so nyah nyah.


I don't know if I'm about to come down with a cold, or if the aerobic intensity of the exercise is making me feel my lungs more, but I'm giving more and more thought to quitting smoking. After all, that's been the subtext of the entire program: improve all the other aspects of a healthy lifestyle until you realize that it's the smoking that's holding you back from greater success.

If that was their point, they've made it. The Lung Association of Nova Scotia wins on this one. I need to quit.

I didn't quit this week, though. Team leader and health pro Jayne Norrie of LANS was scheduled to give an educational talk about quitting smoking. As luck would have it, much of the group no-showed the Saturday session, leaving me as the lone smoker around at the end of the day. So, Jayne sat across from me and laid out some truth:

Your lungs never grow back. Once you quit, they can clean themselves and mostly revert back to their pre-smoker form, but there's some damage that will remain forever. The freshening-up happens quickly, with healthy-feeling milestones happening in minutes, hours and days. But it can take up to ten years for some of the risk factors to drop to non-smoker levels.

Nicotine withdrawal is real, but manageable. It's said that the cravings only last a few minutes, so Jayne gives me a four-D plan to get through them: Distraction, Drink water, Deep breathing, and Delay. It seems to be about doing whatever you can to escape having a cigarette for about five minutes until the craving passes. Good to know.

I've read some material that says the best way to quit is cold turkey -- all at once. The theory in that case is that you only have to go through the peak nicotine withdrawal once. If you spread it out, the logic goes, you'll be suffering sub-peak withdrawal the entire time.

Jayne says it's a personal decision. Many people, she says, find better success with cutting back their smoking day by day. A good strategy seems to be delaying the first cigarette of the day and cutting off smoking earlier in the night.

In my (limited, failing) experience, that makes some sense. Delaying the first cigarette of the day makes that first cigarette extra-stinky, extra-draining, and a little bit sickening.

One of the most intimidating pieces of advice also seems to be among the most useful. Not only is smoking addictive because tobacco contains an addictive drug, tobacco use brings with it many habits and rituals. Time to wake up? Smoke to greet the day. Time to go to bed? Smoke to wind down. Meal? Smoke to ... I dunno, smoke to toast the end of the meal. Got to get away from the desk and think? Smoke. Argument with your spouse getting a little heated? Smoke to reset.

Quitting smoking is going to mean examining each of those peripheral habits and reprogramming them. What did I do to get away from the desk before I started smoking? When waiting for a cab? When I got up in the morning?

If I had another week in this series, I'd take my camera with me through the day and document each cigarette to analyze my patterns and break it down. Since this is the last episode before the big run, it looks like I'll be doing that on my own -- whenever it is I quit.

Yes, the run is next weekend. Saturday, April 9, I'll be joining the "Bad Ashes" Learn To Run team in the 5km Lung Run. Many thanks to the folks who've generously sponsored me!

Below, you'll find the usual assortment of links to things mentioned in this week's episode, plus a few stop-smoking sites I've found interesting.

Onward to the big run! Tune in next Monday to see how I did. I'll be doing one more report with video the week after the run to share what I've learned. And if all goes well, I'll also be doing a music video. Those who've watched the entire series will recognize the tune.

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