An essential health resource for current and former smokers

Monthly Archives: January 2013

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Has someone helped you successfully quit smoking? Pay it forward

Many of us have been involved in situations in life where we’ve needed help from others, whether it was borrowing money, moving to a new house or apartment, getting a babysitter, or needing emotional support and a shoulder to cry on during difficult times. Some people are hesitant to accept help, often because they don’t believe that they’ll be able to reciprocate.

In some respects they do have a valid point – for instance, you’re unlikely to be in a situation where you provide financial help to a wealthy relative who wouldn’t require it anyway. Or if you’re sickly or physically disabled, you probably won’t be able to help your strong, 200-pound friend move a heavy dresser.

However, this is a distorted mindset. Each and every one of us has something to offer. Although you may not be able to reciprocate with the exact same thoughtful kindness you were given, you can still be helpful and supportive to others in many ways. You can reach out to them, spreading kindness and effecting long-term positive change in people’s lives. This concept is known as paying it forward.

This idea holds true in the realm of smoking cessation. A friend or loved one, perhaps someone who has never smoked, may have been there for you when you were struggling to quit smoking. You can do the same for others who are trying to quit. There are currently millions of people who smoke, and many of them want to quit or have quit but relapsed. One of the nicest things you can do is to support them in their time of need, much in the same way that someone supported you. Pay it forward. Whether it’s a friend or family member that you know and interact with face to face, or a stranger in an internet support group, you can help make the difference between that person carrying through and successfully quitting, or giving up and taking up smoking again.

– Tamir


Beware the Testimonial

If you spend any amount of time on the internet you’ll notice that we are constantly bombarded with thousands of different ads promoting all sorts of things from special diets, weight loss and other supplements (e.g. immune or energy boosters), all sorts of exercise equipment and videos, smoking cessation devices, etc. etc.

The one thing that most of them have in common are outrageous claims and testimonials. We’ve all seen them. “Sally L. from Wisconsin lost 57 pounds in 2 weeks eating whatever she wanted while taking 2 pills twice a day of Fat-away fat loss supplement.”

Normally, as soon as we see an outrageous claim, our first (correct) instinct is to brush it off as a lie. Most of the companies hawking their wares know this, and that’s why they add some testimonials from “real live” people to lend an air of credibility to their snake oil.

A variant of the testimonial is the “before and after” photo. You will see a picture of a pale, bloated, out of shape person – the “before” picture. Next to it will be the tanned, smiling, healthy-looking, ripped “after” photo. What they don’t tell you is that in many of the cases, the people in the photos have never used the products in the ad – they’re simply selling their before and after pics to the company. In some cases the “after” picture is really the “before” picture. A model in good shape will simply eat and eat and eat; lose the tan, and presto, you have the sickly bloated look. Finally, sometimes simple photography tricks are used. There are videos online showing how in 5 hours a person transforms his appearance from healthy-looking and defined to flabby and pale, or vice versa. (A couple of examples can be found at this link.)

The bottom line is that if it sounds too good to be true, if the claim sounds out of this world, then it probably is. When it comes to improved health and fitness there is still no known substitute for a healthy diet, exercise program, and smoking cessation.


The Myth of “Light Smoking”

Many smokers who are “light” or “social” smokers, that is, they smoke very few cigarettes a day, are under the mistaken impression that it’s not so harmful. As I mentioned in our book, A Smoker’s Guide to Health and Fitness, although the risk of developing certain smoking related illnesses such as lung cancer and emphysema IS certainly lower in such smokers, the risk of other problems such as heart attacks is still MUCH higher than in nonsmokers.

This recent study of over 100,000 nurses followed for many years showed that the risk of sudden cardiac death – dying from the heart suddenly stopping to work, was quite high even in those women who smoked 1-14 cigarettes daily. Every five years of light smoking increased this risk by 8% (which may not seem terribly high, but given the fact that many people smoke for decades it ends up being quite significant). The good news is that after quitting, this risk starts to go down, and after many years is pretty much back to the level of a person who has never smoked.

– Tamir


Sweetened and Diet Beverages Sing the Blues

As many of you may know, consumption of sugary beverages as well as soda (both regular and diet) has been linked to obesity and diabetes, among other health problems.

Shelves of soft drinks

A recent study suggests that consumption of these beverages may increase the risk of depression as well. The researchers followed over 250,000 people for a decade (making it a pretty high quality study), and discovered that those who drank the most sugary beverages, soda, and diet soda (4+ servings daily) were 30 percent more likely to have developed depression over the duration of the study. Those that specifically consumed more diet soda, ice tea, and fruit punch had an even greater risk of being diagnosed with depression.

Conversely, coffee (4+ cups daily) seemed to have a modest protective effect, reducing the risk of depression by 10%.

I should emphasize that this study does not per se prove causation (i.e., that soda or diet soda causes depression). It is possible that people with a tendency towards depression are for some reason greater consumers of soda. However, knowing that too much sugar is harmful for many other bodily processes, and that several other studies have shed a negative light on artificial sweeteners, one has to wonder if it isn’t smarter to stick with water (with perhaps a couple of cups of java thrown in).

– Tamir

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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

There’s a famous scene at the end of Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which the protagonist, along with others, starts singing, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” as they are left to die after being crucified. Although people don’t usually look to guidance from 1970s British satires, the point is well taken. Too many people live their lives as pessimists. Of course all of us have or will at some point face hardships such as the death of loved ones, health scares, and financial troubles. How someone handles such situations is different from person to person. Hopefully, we would all maintain an optimistic and healthy outlook. (You don’t know what your attitude will be unless you’ve encountered such situations previously; even then, each situation brings its own unique challenges.)

Cast of Life of Brian

Unfortunately, too many people out there are NEVER optimistic about ANYTHING. They live their entire lives in anticipation of the next failure, let down or disease. They walk around dour, morose, and downtrodden, and let their pervasive pessimism define their very being. Even when something goes their way (a raise at work, a new romantic relationship, a compliment from a friend or family member), they always look at the down side. “I’ll probably have more work now and won’t be able to handle it and get fired.” “I doubt this relationship will last – he/she will learn about the REAL me and dump me.” “He/she didn’t really mean that compliment – they were just being nice so that I don’t feel bad.”

Being pessimistic is bad for your health as well. Having a worse outlook on life is linked to increased rates of heart disease, depression, and death from any cause, as well as being linked with many different unhealthy habits, including smoking. But that aside, who wants to waste their whole life being miserable?

As you are aware, here at Smokers Fitness we try to push healthy lifestyle choices such as smoking cessation, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and sound mental health. Many times, when we are in the process of effecting these changes, it is easy for even the most cheerful person to become pessimistic. No where is this more true then when trying to quit smoking.

Many of you current and ex-smokers know what I mean. You feel irritable, cranky, shaky. You think to yourself, “What’s the point? I’ve quit 5 times before, and always ended up relapsing.” You feel like your nonsmoking friends and family just don’t get you or know what you’re going through. To them, what’s the big deal? Why is it so hard to not reach for some crushed up, rolled up leaves?

This is when it’s most important to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Recently many of you made New Year’s resolutions, and maybe you’ve started to put them into effect. Maybe you’re struggling. Just keep reminding yourself that you will get through this. You will be healthier. Your friends and family, who love you, will be thrilled about the new, healthy you. And you will hopefully live a long, happy, and healthy life.

– Tamir


More evidence that smoking doesn’t relieve anxiety

As we discuss in our book, A Smoker’s Guide to Health and Fitness, there is a prevalent myth that smoking helps reduce stress and anxiety. Indeed, some smokers use this erroneous belief to rationalize cigarette use, without realizing that, for one thing, the anxiety that’s supposedly being relieved by smoking stems from withdrawal symptoms; in between cigarettes withdrawal can cause much anxiety, stress and irritability in the smoker, who needs a cigarette to ease those symptoms.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry followed the anxiety levels in smokers who had quit smoking. At 6 months from when they quit, those who had stayed off of cigarettes showed a marked decline from their baseline anxiety levels while those who had relapsed and were once again smoking actually had an INCREASE in their anxiety levels.

Even more interesting was that the largest increase in anxiety levels occurred in those who classified themselves as having a psychiatric disorder and in those who stated that the main reason that they were smoking is to relieve stress. Conversely, the largest decrease in anxiety levels occurred in the same groups.

So if you currently smoke and do not want to quit because you feel that it’s helping you cope with life’s stresses, know that the exact opposite is true. Quitting smoking, in addition to improving your physical well-being, will improve your mental health as well.

– Tamir