One of the main impacts of smoking on athletic performance is a decrease in lung function. The lungs consist of delicate membranes which are able to filter oxygen out of the air and send it into the bloodstream. Oxygen is essential for muscle function, especially during exercise, when muscles demand more oxygen. Smoking breaks down tiny hairs called cilia which are meant to prevent foreign bodies, such as dust and other particles, from interfering with respiration. Eventually the lungs become less efficient in drawing oxygen from the air, which can lead to asthma, bronchitis and other lung ailments. For athletes, this means a decrease in stamina and performance, as muscles that get inadequate oxygen become fatigued more quickly. Smokers also tend to suffer from shortness of breath more often than nonsmokers, as their muscles and heart demand more oxygen than their lungs are able to supply.
Another impact smoking has on athletes is its effect on heart and circulatory health. Smoking causes the blood vessels to constrict and become blocked with plaque, and it can also increase blood pressure. Constricted blood vessels reduce blood flow to the muscles, further limiting the amount of oxygen the muscles receive. Loss of blood flow can significantly reduce muscular endurance, while the heart itself may also tire more quickly, as it works harder than it should to pump blood through clogged blood vessels.
Another disadvantage of smoking for athletes is that it can lead to greater chance of injury. When the muscles, heart and brain do not receive enough oxygen, mental and physical acuity can drop. This can cause athletes to make poor decisions, use bad form when exercising, or even become dizzy or faint. Smoking can also reduce the strength of bones and inhibit the body’s ability to repair skin, ligaments and tendons. This means that any injuries a smoker does sustain may take longer to heal, which means more time sitting on the bench.