Regardless if you are a smoker, you have been told over and over that it’s bad for you. While the statistics bear that out, smokers tend to die about 10 years earlier than non-smokers, what about the impact it has on your ability to play baseball?
In the photo used at the top of this article, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio (two Baseball Hall of Famers) can be seen lighting up after sweeping the World Series. Keep in mind that the early 1950’s was the peak of smoking in the United States. Both men had also served in the U.S. Army during World War II where cigarettes were given to soldiers in their K rations.
Physiology of Smoking
If you are even a casual smoker, this is how your physiology is affected by smoking while playing baseball (and really doing any type of exercise).
Smoking harms your ability to exercise and restricts physical fitness. In short, smoking decreases athletic performance.
Let’s get into the details of how and why and what you can do to play baseball at a higher level by quitting or at least cutting back.
Smoke contains nicotine and carbon monoxide. These chemicals make your blood “sticky” and narrow your arteries.
When you exercise, increased blood flow is designed to deliver more oxygen to your heart, skeletal muscles, and organs. Narrowing those arteries causes a decrease in blood flow. This makes the exercise harder. If your muscles don’t get the oxygen they need fast enough, your body can’t perform well.
Nicotine will cause vasoconstriction (narrowing) of vessels supplying non-skeletal muscles, but vasodilation (widening) of vessels which supply skeletal muscles.
There is also the effects of inhaling carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from the smoke. You have forces fighting to both dilate and constrict skeletal muscle vessels, combined with the fact that some of your hemoglobin is now actually bound to both CO2 and CO and not just pure oxygen (O2) and your muscles tire much more rapidly.
Smoking elevates your resting heart rate, (the number of beats per minute when you are not active). Physical activity can raise your heart rate to dangerous levels.
Smoking ‘high nicotine’ content cigarettes increased cardiac output by 32%. For ‘low nicotine’ content cigarettes increased cardiac output by 13%. These effects lasted for approximately one hour after smoking a single cigarette.
What does this mean? Well, the article states the stroke volume stayed the same, so smoking cigarettes doesn’t make your heart stronger, it makes your heart beat faster. In other words, your heart becomes slightly tachycardic (faster beating). This may seem insignificant, but if you consider that cardiac output can vary anywhere from 20%-50% while exercising, adding the effect of smoking to that is likely to 1) prematurely tire the heart muscle(s) and 2) increase the likelihood of a heart attack during exercise.
Smoking hurts your lung capacity. Cigarette smoke contains tar that coats your lungs. Alveoli, the tiny air sacs in your lungs, lose their elasticity. Your lungs tissue becomes irritated and inflamed. This causes the production of phlegm and congestion. Even smoking just a few cigarettes a day can cause deoxygenation. If your lungs don’t work well (decreased lung capacity), you will limit your ability to exercise.
To run the bases, you need to inhale more air. When you are trying to leg out a double, your VO2 (volume of oxygen inhaled) increases significantly, but this cannot happen if your airways are constricted.
Exercise Can Help You Quit
Here’s the good news! Exercise reduces cravings, decreases resting heart rate, increases blood circulation, improves lung function and overall physical performance. It can also help you to reduce stress and manage withdrawal symptoms if you’re trying to quit smoking.