Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes can cause devastating health issues, from cancer to heart disease and stroke. What many people don’t know is that your body can begin healing when you quit smoking, and that this healing can start within 20 minutes of finishing your last cigarette.
According to The American Cancer Society, health benefits of quitting begin almost instantaneously.
Timeline: How the Body Begins to Heal
The timeline of healing begins twenty minutes after quitting. In just twenty minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. When nicotine is introduced into the bloodstream, blood vessels narrow and the heart pumps faster, elevating the heart rate. It takes approximately twenty minutes for blood pressure and heart rate to return to pre-nicotine levels in the smoker. Before you can even begin to crave another cigarette, your body is beginning to normalize.
Once the last cigarette is put down, it then takes only twelve hours for the carbon monoxide levels in the blood to return to a normal baseline. Carbon monoxide basically tricks your bloodstream into giving it a free tour through your body - replacing the oxygen that would normally be carried. This essentially causes oxygen deprivation to all of the cells that need oxygen to function correctly.
2 - 3 Days
Many smokers report a new vitality to their sense of taste and smell within a few days after quitting. The taste and scent of tobacco often overwhelms your taste buds and olfactory function, and quitting smoking can help you regain what it is like to truly smell and taste again.
2 weeks - 3 Months
Two weeks to three months later, overall circulation improves and lung function increases. Smoking not only constricts blood vessels, it causes major problems in the blood supply itself. Blood becomes ‘sticky’ and more prone to clotting in a smoker, arterial damage occurs, and the likelihood of stroke and heart disease increases because the blood supply simply can’t flow the way that it needs to.
1 - 9 Months
That typical smoker’s cough? It can take only one to nine months for that to clear up, along with the problematic shortness of breath. As a smoker, your lungs lose the ability to clean themselves out properly. Mucus that would normally be removed by clean lungs remains, because smoking paralyzes the cilia that are tasked with keeping your lungs spic and span. After quitting, the cilia can once again work to keep lungs clear of mucus and infection. An increase in lung function also means that chronic fatigue can begin to abate, as your body is now getting the clean oxygen that it needs to run smoothly.
Now, we are up to one year cigarette free. Congratulations, because you’ve cut the risk of extreme coronary heart disease to just one half of that of someone who has continued to smoke. Heart disease is a leading cause of death, and a good 20% of those deaths are smokers. Looking ahead just one year, you could be 50% less likely to become one of those statistics than if you had opted to keep smoking.
2 - 5 Years
In two to five years, the threat of stroke is reduced to the same level as a person who never smoked.
Five years after quitting: the chances of being diagnosed with certain types of cancers can diminish. Cancer is probably one of the most well-known and talked about diseases linked to smoking. Lung cancer is usually the first to come to mind, but smoking increases the likelihood of being diagnosed with other cancers, as well. Esophageal, mouth, throat, and bladder cancer risks are cut in half after that five year window has passed. Smoking even increases the risk of cervical cancer, but drops to that of a non-smoker five years after dropping the habit.
Ten years down the road, the threat of lung cancer is fifty percent less than a person who is still smoking. Other cancers, including cancers of the larynx and pancreas, are also diminished after ten years.
After fifteen years, a former smoker can expect to have no more risk of coronary disease than an average person who never started smoking.
The Rest of Your Life
Many other benefits obviously come from quitting smoking. There is no more cigarette aroma lingering on your breath, skin, clothes, and hair, the yellowing of fingertips goes away, and skin will appear healthier and will not age as quickly.
Smoking is linked to reproductive problems, cataracts, impotence, and macular degeneration, among other health problems. Every day that you go without smoking decreases the risks of all of these problems and more.
Any age is the right age to quit smoking, but doing it earlier is best. Putting away the cigarettes before age 35 can nearly reset your health risks, placing you on the same level with a non-smoker. By 40, you not only drastically improve your health, you can another nine years to your life. At age 50, cutting out cigarettes halves your likelihood of dying in the next 15 years, compared to if you had continued to smoke.
Obviously, everyone has different health concerns, whether they are a smoker or a non-smoker, and other lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise may interact more with the health problems generated by smoking. Many genetic disorders are likely to be exacerbated by smoking, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Putting Withdrawal Into Perspective
Most smokers know that quitting smoking is the best thing that they can do for their health, quality of life, and pocketbook, but the addiction is very real and very hard to break. It can be done. When you look at this brief timeline and compare it to the timeline of beating the addiction, though, it can be put into perspective.
The first week of quitting is the hardest, featuring chronic cravings, flu like symptoms, irritability, etc. Throughout weeks two through four, though, these symptoms decrease more and more. But when you see that within that 30 day window, your appearance and health can drastically improve, it is definite motivation to push through the hard times.
From day one, where your heart rate and blood pressure drop, to year fifteen, when it is possible to be as healthy as you were had you never started smoking, the timeline of your life can only be accentuated by choosing to make this life-positive decision.