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Whether you’ve kicked the habit long ago or you’re thinking about stopping for good, surprising things happen to your body when you quit smoking.

By Dr. Rashmika Potdar, hematologist-oncologist at Geisinger Medical Center

Besides eating into your budget, smoking increases the risk of developing countless health conditions, including cancer and heart disease. But quitting smoking benefits your body in ways you might not expect.

What happens when you quit smoking?

After you smoke your last cigarette, your body begins to change. Here are just a few of the benefits of quitting smoking:

  1. Your blood pressure goes back to normal.
    The nicotine in cigarettes can cause your pulse and blood pressure to rise, increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. But within as little as 20 minutes after smoking your last cigarette, your blood pressure begins to normalize.

  2. You can breathe easier.
    Within just 8 hours of quitting smoking, your body’s oxygen levels will increase and your lung function will begin to improve. As your lungs begin to heal, you may feel less short of breath, cough less and find it easier to breathe in the coming weeks and months after you quit.
    Your risk of developing cancer decreases.

  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 an unsightly yellow film. It can also dull your skin and make your hair brittle. Quitting improves blood flow, making your skin look more radiant and your smile look brighter.

  5. You lower your risk of developing heart disease.
    When you stop smoking, you’re helping your heart. Within eight weeks of quitting, your cholesterol levels improve. After a year of not smoking, your risk of heart disease is cut in half. After 15 years nicotine-free, your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack are the same as someone who has never smoked.

No matter if you’re a new smoker or have been smoking for years, it’s never too late to quit.

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 slow. Start by talking to your doctor. They can point you in the direction of free resources available to quit and help you build a plan to stop smoking for good.

Other steps you can take to quit smoking include: 

  • Throwing out your ash trays, 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 cravings strike, chew gum, drink water or go for a walk. Getting your mind off cravings can help you move past them.
  • Join a smoking cessation support group: Build a support network of folks who are all trying to quit smoking, too. These support groups can boost your confidence and help you see you aren’t alone in quitting. If you can’t find a local support group, you can find virtual support groups online (some which even correspond through text messaging).
  • Use nicotine replacement therapies: There are many devices available for purchase (including nicotine patches, gum and inhalers) to help step you down from nicotine gently.
  • Try medication: If you need extra support to quit, your doctor may recommend prescription medications that can help.
  • Sign up for 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:

Learn about heart care at Geisinger
Read more about pulmonology at Geisinger

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