The negative health effects of smoking are well-documented. Cigarette smoking increases your risks of lung cancer, heart disease, and many other devastating health risks. If you’ve been smoking cigarettes for a while, you may be wondering if it’s even worth it to quit. The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, including headaches and nausea, make it seem completely hopeless. It’s tempting to just assume that the damage is done and that there’s no benefit to quitting.
You couldn’t be more wrong.
It turns out that smoking cessation has tons of benefits. The benefits of quitting include reduced risk of cancer, increased life expectancy, and many other positive effects on your long-term health. Your body has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and it happens much sooner than you may think.
Immediate effects of quitting smoking (less than 24 hours)
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower levels of nicotine and carbon monoxide in your blood
- Lower risk of heart attack
- Cravings begin
Within 20 minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your pulse and blood pressure begin to lower back down to the normal range. Your extremities will return to their normal temperature.
By the 8-hour mark, your blood will have only half the amount of nicotine and carbon monoxide. This is huge. Carbon monoxide is one of the main chemicals found in cigarettes and it can crowd out the oxygen in your blood. This can cause tons of problems throughout your body as it can’t get the oxygen that it needs to function. Your carbon monoxide levels should return to normal after 12 hours.
Smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack as non-smokers. But if you successfully make it to the 24-hour mark, then you’ve already begun reducing your risk. Heart attacks are an extremely common way for smokers to die, so if you’ve made it this far you’re already decreasing your chances.
If you’re used to smoking a lot, after the first 8 hours or so the cravings are going to hit you. Hard. The best thing you can do is to find a way to distract yourself until the feeling passes. Your most intense cravings usually only last about 10 minutes, so if you can distract yourself for that long then you should be good to go.
Effects of quitting smoking in the short-term (48 hours-1 year)
- Nerve endings start to heal
- Improved sense of taste and smell
- Your lungs eject mucus
- No more nicotine remains in your body
- More energy and easier breathing
- Improved blood flow
- Most difficult withdrawal symptoms arrive
Once you make it past the first 48 hours, you’ll begin to notice some of the real effects of quitting smoking. The coolest benefit is that, now that your nerve endings are beginning to heal, your sense of taste and smell will begin to improve. Who would have thought that food could taste this good?
You’ll notice that you start hacking and coughing more. Believe it or not, this is actually a good sign. Your lungs are working hard to remove all that gunk that’s accumulated from cigarette smoking. Another positive is that by this point, almost all of the nicotine in your system will be gone.
Of course, the withdrawal symptoms are going to intensify. You’ll feel anxious, tired, dizzy, and hungry. You’ll get headaches and may even begin to feel depression kicking in. This is the moment when you’ll be most likely to abandon your plan. Don’t. This is the most critical moment in your smoking cessation journey. Find a way to distract yourself until the feelings pass. You’ll be glad you did. These withdrawal symptoms are part of the process. Everyone who has ever quit smoking has been through something similar. If they can do it, you can too.
After 3 days of smoking cessation, you’ll see noticeable improvements in your breathing. Your lungs are on the fast track to getting better.
Once two or three weeks pass by, you’ll notice that you don’t get quite as winded from exercise or daily physical activities. Your lungs are making dramatic improvements. Your risk of a heart attack just hit a new low. Things are on the upswing. You’ll still get some cravings, but the hardest part of withdrawal is over. You’ll start to view yourself as someone who doesn’t need tobacco anymore. Maybe you’ll even start to refer to yourself as a “non-smoker”.
Long-term effects of quitting smoking (1 year+)
- Risk of heart disease cut in half
- Risk of stroke and cervical cancer the same as nonsmokers
- 50% less likely to get mouth, throat, esophagus, or bladder cancer
- 50% less likely to die from lung cancer
- Reduced risk of cancer of the larynx or pancreas
- Chances of getting heart disease the same as for non-smokers
Once you power through the initial short-term pain of nicotine withdrawal you’ll really start to see the benefits of quitting smoking. You’ll notice some profound benefits to your long-term physical and mental health.
After your first year off of tobacco, your risk of heart disease is cut in half. Smoking damages cells that line the blood vessels, increases the buildup of plaque, and lowers good cholesterol. Now that your far removed from that damage, your body is making great strides in healing itself?⚕️.
Once you make it to the 5 year point, your risk of getting cancer of the cervix or getting a stroke are identical to non-smokers. For those two conditions, it’s almost as if you never even smoked to begin with! You’re also 50% less likely to get cancer of the mouth, throat, bladder, or esophagus. Things are looking pretty good at this point.
After 10 years, you’re half as likely to die of lung cancer. Your lungs take the majority of the abuse from tobacco smoking, so the fact that you’re lowering your chance of death from lung cancer by 50% is incredible. You’ll also see a dramatically lower chance of cancer of the larynx or pancreas.
Once you make it to 15 years smoke-free, cigarettes will just be a distance memory. You’re healthier than ever and your risk of getting heart disease is the same as if you were a non-smoker. Congratulations!
- WebMD. What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking?.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease and Stroke.
- National Institutes of Health. Benefits of Quitting.
- American Cancer Society. Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time.
- Harvard Medical School. What’s the best way to quit smoking?. 07/08/2016.