No matter what your age or how long you have been smoking, there are many immediate and long-term benefits of quitting. There is comprehensive and conclusive scientific evidence confirming that the risk of disease in former smokers is less than that in smokers of the same age and gender. Quitting smoking slows disease progression and can even reverse some of the acute body changes induced by smoking.
The earlier you quit, the greater the benefit of quitting. Smokers who quit when they are 30 years old can avoid most of the excess risk and add about 10 years to their life expectancy. Quitting at 50 can halve the risk of dying from smoking and add 6 years to life expectancy. Even stopping at 60 can have benefits, raising life expectancy by 3 years.
Some health benefits of quitting can be noticed as soon as smoking stops. Within only a few hours without a cigarette, the carbon monoxide levels in the body are decreased, followed a week later by a decline in nicotine levels. After 5 days without a cigarette, you may notice an improvement in taste and smell.
For some people, the health benefits of quitting continue for years after they quit. In some cases, former smokers may even return to being as healthy as a non-smoker and carry the same risk of disease, although this does not apply to cancer. People who have smoked will always have a greater risk of some cancers than people who have never smoked.
After quitting smoking there are a multitude of benefits for your body, some noticeable and some not. Some effects will occur straight away and others may take a number of years. As the amount of time since your last cigarette increases, you will be fitter, have less risk of developing disease, and feel healthier.
Everyone’s lungs stop working as well the older they get, but for smokers this process happens sooner, faster and more severely. Smoking also causes permanent damage to lung tissue. By quitting smoking, you will give your body the best chance of improving airway functioning and stopping any further damage.
The benefits to the lungs are widespread:
- 1 month after quitting smoking, improvements in airway function are noticeable;
- After 2 months tobacco-free, your cilia resume their proper functioning. Cilia are little cells that line the lungs, and their job is to clear the lungs of mucus and debris. Once the cilia start performing their normal duties, the rates of chronic coughing, bronchitis, respiratory infections and pneumonia will also decrease;
- Quitting slows the increased pulmonary function decline experienced by smokers;
- Hospitalisation and symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are reduced;
- Post-operative pulmonary complications associated with smoking are reduced;
- Lung cancer is substantially reduced in those who quit smoking by 30. At 50, the risk for lung cancer is reduced by half, compared with someone who continues smoking for another 25 years; and
- The positive effects on the lungs will allow an increase in exercise capacity and therefore fitness will improve.
The positive effect on the lungs will really start kicking in around 2 months after quitting, as long as there is no permanent emphysematous lung damage.
After not smoking for 24 hours, the levels of carbon monoxide in the body system reduce dramatically, which frees up haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen; therefore, if more of it is available, then more oxygen will be transported around the body.
Greater oxygen levels and better oxygen transportation throughout the body have many health benefits:
- After 6 weeks, wound infection is less likely; and
- After 6 weeks, blood viscosity is improved, which has a positive effect on blood flow to the hands and feet. This reduces the risk of peripheral vascular disease. For those who already have the disease, amputations are less likely to be necessary.
Smoking promotes thickening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is associated with many negative health outcomes in various body systems, including the heart.
By quitting smoking, atherosclerosis is less likely to occur and therefore the risk of developing heart disease is reduced. After 1 year without smoking, the risk of developing heart disease is half as much as it would otherwise be. Amazingly, after 15 years without smoking, your risk of developing heart disease is equal to that of someone who never smoked, which means you have a chance to reverse the negative effects of smoking on the heart.
Atherosclerosis increases the risk of stroke, which is why smokers have a much higher risk of experiencing a stroke than non-smokers. Therefore, by not smoking for 2–5 years, you will reduce your stroke risk. Amazingly, after 25 years without smoking, your stroke risk is equal to that of a non-smoker.
Smoking has a detrimental impact on oral health, including a reduced ability to smell and taste. Five days without a cigarette, smokers will notice an improvement in taste and smell.
In addition to all the negative health impacts of smoking on the body, it also has a negative effect on your appearance. Smoking has been shown to have visible effects on the skin, including:
- Increased facial wrinkling;
- Premature ageing; and
- Decreased capillary and arteriolar blood flow.
Within days of stopping smoking, previous smokers will experience improvements in immunity. This means fewer colds and flu, fewer sore throats and fewer infections!