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It’s more than just lowering your cancer risk. Surprising things happen to your body when you quit smoking.

By: Dr. Thiviyanath Sellathurai, family medicine doctor at Geisinger’s Phillipsburg clinic

Are you thinking about quitting smoking? You’ll get big benefits from head to toe.

And whether you’re a new smoker or you’ve been smoking for years, it’s never too late to quit.

What happens when you quit smoking?

After you smoke your last cigarette, your body begins to change. In fact, you’ll start to get the benefits of quitting smoking within minutes.

1. Your blood pressure goes down.

The nicotine in cigarettes can increase your blood pressure, raising your risk of heart attack or stroke. But 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure starts to normalize.

2. Your oxygen levels rise.

Within just 8 hours of quitting smoking, your body’s oxygen levels increase. And your lung function will begin to improve. As your lungs start to heal, you may:

  • Feel less short of breath
  • Cough less
  • Breathe easier
  • Have more stamina, especially during exercise

3. Your risk of developing cancer decreases.

After you take that final puff, your risk of developing lung cancer is cut in half. Your risk for developing esophageal, bladder and pancreatic cancers decreases, too.

4. Your skin, hair and nails look better.

Smoking stains your teeth and nails with a yellow film. It can also dull your skin and make your hair brittle. Quitting improves blood flow, making your skin look more radiant. Your smile will look brighter after you take that final drag, too.

5. Your sense of taste and smell improves.

Smoking deadens nerve endings in your mouth and nose, which dulls your sense of taste and smell. But when you stop smoking, these nerve endings start to regenerate. And your sense of taste and smell reawaken. With your tastebuds back to life, you may find a whole new appreciation for your favorite foods.

Other benefits of quitting

Besides lowering your cancer risk and increasing your oxygen levels, quitting smoking offers a few other benefits such as:

  • Fresher breath
  • Cost savings
  • Stronger immune system
  • Less stress

How to quit smoking

The thought of quitting smoking can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Before you quit, make a plan. Contrary to popular belief, studies have found that quitting cold turkey is not the most effective route.

Instead, go slowly. Start by talking to your doctor. They can point you in the direction of free resources and help you build a plan to stop smoking for good.

Other steps you can take to quit smoking include:

  • Throw out your ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters: Doing this can help you avoid temptation. You can also go one step further and ask friends and family members not to smoke around you.
  • Replace your craving: When you get the urge to light up, chew gum, drink water or go for a walk. Getting your mind off cravings can help you move past them.
  • Download an app: Want to stop smoking? There’s an app for that. Many help with monitoring your progress and tracking your moods and cravings. Others offer live chat support to keep you motivated. Browse the store of your smartphone or tablet for an app that works for you.
  • Join a smoking cessation support group: Build a support network of people who are all trying to quit smoking, too. These support groups can boost your confidence and help you see you aren’t alone. Look online to find a group in your area. Or, if you prefer, join a virtual group.
  • Use nicotine replacement therapies: Devices are available to help gently step you down from nicotine. Popular methods include:
    • Gum
    • Patches
    • Inhalers
    • Lozenges
    • Nasal spray
  • Try medication: If you need extra support, your doctor may recommend prescription medications.
  • Health coaching: A health coach can help you work through the physical and emotional effects of quitting smoking with personalized sessions.

Most importantly, don’t give up: You may have a few stops and starts along the way, especially if you’ve smoked for a long time. That’s okay. Be gentle with yourself and keep trying until you’re ready to quit.

Next steps:

Meet Thiviyanath Sellathurai, MD
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