Ahhhh, health! Now let's smoke?
May 8, 2012 3:49 PM   Subscribe

As a former smoker I find that a good, vigorous workout makes me absolutely crave a cigarette. What is that?!

I was a cigarette smoker for years, on and off, then I quit several years ago. I never felt any sort of addiction to them and had no trouble quitting in that sense; once I decided to quit for good, I quit for good, and that was that — no problem, no headaches, nothing. I was done. My reliable I need one now trigger back then was anger/frustration; if I was very upset about something, that's the only time I'd notice what I'd call a craving.

Cut to the present (this has been going on consistently for two years, it's not new): every time I finish a strenuous workout all I can think about afterward is the cigarette I omgwish I were smoking. It's a pretty powerful craving. A couple years back I gave in, mostly out of curiosity, and I bought a pack. Sure enough, I only wanted one/two after a good cardio workout, which is/was about every third day. Never after yoga or anything else. After that pack, I didn't buy another because... well, slippery slope and all. And it smells like shit, but I digress. I'm just not a smoker. But here I am, sweaty, panting like a dog, and wanting to hit a cigarette like it's my job.

Any idea why this happens? I'm not afraid I'll give in or anything, but it's driving me crazy enough to make an AskMe (after two years of wondering). Maybe if I can nail down the reason, I'll be able to stop thinking about it finally.
posted by heyho to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I get that a bit, and for me it's a luxury thing similar to smoking after a meal, or alternatively, thinking that I've "earned it."
posted by rhizome at 4:10 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anger and a good aerobic workout have some similar physiological results.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:19 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

My reliable I need one now trigger back then was anger/frustration; if I was very upset about something, that's the only time I'd notice what I'd call a craving.

I'd think you're angry about something and exercise removes some blockage. I used to have anger issues when I would work out.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:28 PM on May 8, 2012

I can SO relate. I live next door to a house where there always seems to be people smoking on the front porch. When I go out for a run, I purposely loop around the back of our houses so that I don't have to smell the smoke. Not because it's gross, but because I want it so bad.

I think that for me, accomplishing a good workout triggers the same sort of whole-body YEAHHHHHH as reaching the peak on a strenuous hike, completing a difficult task (physical or mental), or having great sexytime. In the past, each of those would have been followed by a cigarette - the habit is broken, but the mind remembers the trigger. Especially when my mind is going YEAHHHHHHH and not thinking appropriate things, like "Smoking is unhealthy! I quit! Let's go stretch and then eat some vegetables!".
posted by Elly Vortex at 4:30 PM on May 8, 2012

I ESPECIALLY REALLY TRULY want a cigarette after an awesome cardio workout, too. I joke about it, like, after a run, all the little hairs in your lungs are standing up and waving to get oxygen, and it's a good idea to hit them hard just then, so they remember who's boss.

But maybe it's just that the relaxant qualities of nicotine are a nice chemical counterpoint to the full-body endorphin rush that cardio releases? I know I don't want to hot box a cigarette after a run, I want to lay in the grass and take deep, delicious drags.

Damn, man.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:42 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Probably the same reason why people especially like to smoke while on opiates or after having sex. Why that is biochemically, not so sure besides "endorphins lol".
posted by WhitenoisE at 5:50 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I thought that was just me! Same thing happens to me after a yoga class of all things.
posted by kaybdc at 6:06 PM on May 8, 2012

This could simply be a learned association: when you smoked, did you always have a cigarette after a workout?

These associations can be very hard to shake because they've been reinforced many times over a long period and are strongly associated with positive emotional experiences thanks to all the endorphins released during a hard workout.
posted by pharm at 3:34 AM on May 9, 2012

This may sound weird, but I believe it.

You've got nicotine in your cells. When you work out, or get a massage, or anything else physical, the nicotine in your cells releases, and it's just enough to give you a craving. It also happens when dieting and giving up sugar. If you haven't had sugar in a long time, and you work out really hard, you get a sugar craving.

Or I could be a complete and total crack-pot.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 AM on May 9, 2012

How long has it been since you quit? I found that it took me five years to get over random cravings for smokes. Five years! It's a hell of a drug.

I think it's part of the strenuous activity releasing chemical good stuff in your brain. It can be similar to the feeling in those first three drags on a cigarette. Don't do it! Go drink a big, cold glass of water and I bet the feeling will go.
posted by amanda at 7:20 AM on May 9, 2012

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