The Realities & Rewards of Quitting Smoking
No matter how old or young you are, or how long you’ve been smoking, quitting is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Even if you’ve smoked for 30 years, within 20 minutes of quitting, your body will begin to heal itself. No, it won’t be easy and, yes, you may experience cravings and other symptoms of withdrawal. But try to remember that while they’ll last a few weeks or months, the benefits of quitting will last your lifetime.
Here’s a look at what happens to your body when you quit smoking:
8 Minutes After Quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure begin to return to a normal level and your hands and feet begin to warm to their usual temperature.
8 Hours After Quitting: The nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop by 50% and your risk of heart attack is significantly reduced. You may begin to experience cravings. They typically last less than 10 minutes so take steps to distract yourself. Consider taking a walk, organizing a closet or drawer, or calling a friend.
12 Hours After Quitting: Your carbon monoxide levels have dropped to normal making it easier for your heart to do its job. Cravings will likely continue. Again, look for ways to take your focus off of the craving. If you’re struggling, reach out for to trained counselors to learn how to manage your cravings.
24 Hours After Quitting: Your heart is getting stronger and more efficient. Your entire body is benefitting from increased oxygen and reduced carbon monoxide levels.
48 Hours After Quitting: You may notice your sense of smell and taste both becoming sharper and more sensitive thanks to healing nerve endings. Your lungs, too, are doing some serious improving. This may be accompanied by some coughing as your body works to clean out your lungs. But, better breathing is ahead.
You may also notice that your withdrawal symptoms are at their worst. That headache you’re feeling? That’s nicotine leaving your body. You may also feel edgy and even hungry. Again, it’s nicotine kicking and screaming its way out. Be patient and wish it good riddance.
3 Days After Quitting: At this point, your body should be nicotine-free, and your cravings will be weaker and fewer. However, you may feel more anxious than usual. Again, find ways to distract yourself. Take those healthy lungs out for a walk, go to a movie, or count how much money you’re saving by not buying cigarettes. Do anything, except going where others are likely to be smoking.
1 Week After Quitting: The worst is behind you. Continue to avoid situations where others may be smoking and remember that your future life will be fuller and healthier for the effort you’re making today.
2 Weeks to 3 Months After Quitting: Your entire body is thriving thanks to improved circulation. You can breathe easier, even when exercising. Your risk of heart attack has dropped dramatically. Plus, you’re better able to fight off colds and other illnesses.
Yes, you may still experience cravings but they’re not as tempting thanks to the progress you’ve made. Stick with it!
3 to 9 Months After Quitting: Your energy level and stamina are growing stronger every day. Look to improve your lung and heart strength through regular exercise and truly appreciate how much easier it is to breathe every time you do it.
1 Year After Quitting: Your risk of heart disease is now half of what it was a year ago.
5 Years After Quitting: Your risk of stroke and cervical cancer are reduced to that of a nonsmoker’s, and you’ve halved your risk of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, bladder, or esophagus compared to when you first quit.
10 Years After Quitting: Your risk of dying from lung cancer or developing bladder cancer is half that of a smoker’s. You’re also much less likely to get cancer of the larynx (voice box), kidney or pancreas compared to when you smoked.
15 Years After Quitting: Your chances of developing heart disease are the same as if you never smoked.
Yes, it’s a long road but the rewards—feeling better, living to see your family and friends through many milestones, and savoring life—are worth it.
Ready to start the clock on your own timeline to better health? Click here for information and support for quitting for good.
Kim Fodor, MD, is a primary care physician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s Internal Medicine Department.