Smoking is a deadly habit that poses serious health risks and is a leading cause of preventable diseases worldwide. It affects almost every part of the body and can lead to cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes and COPD. But, giving up smoking can reverse some of the harm caused and improve overall health and well-being.
More than 16 million Americans have developed smoking-related diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, quitting smoking can decrease the likelihood of these diseases and years to one’s life expectancy. The benefits of quitting smoking start within an hour after smoking the last cigarette and continue to accumulate over time.
Here’s a timeline summarizing what happens to the body when quitting smoking based on scientific research and expert advice:
Within 20 minutes: The heart rate and blood pressure begin to return to normal levels.
Within 12 hours: The carbon monoxide level drops in the blood, increasing the amount of oxygen reaching vital organs.
Within 24 hours: Blood vessels widen, lowering the risk of a heart attack.
Within 48 hours: Nerve endings start to heal, enhancing the senses of taste and smell. The lungs clear mucus and debris from smoking.
Within 72 hours: Bronchial tubes relax, improving lung capacity and breathing. Withdrawal symptoms may arise from nicotine depletion, including irritability, anxiety, cravings and sleeping difficulty.
Within a week: Withdrawal symptoms subside, significantly increasing the likelihood to quit smoking for good.
Within 2 weeks to 3 months: Physical activity and endurance improve due to circulation and lung function enhancements. The likelihood of infection and inflammation in the lungs decreases.
Within 1 to 9 months: Cilia, the tiny hair-like structures that clear dust and bacteria from the lungs, regain normal function, lowering the risk of respiratory infections and improving lung health. The symptom of coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath improve.
Within 1 year: The risk of coronary heart disease reduces by half, compared to a smoker.
Within 2 to 5 years: The risk of stroke reduces to that of a non-smoker. The chances of mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder cancer also decrease by half.
Within 10 years: The risk of lung cancer drops by about half. The risk of larynx and pancreatic cancer also decreases.
Within 15 years: The risk of coronary heart disease is similar to that of a non-smoker.
Quitting smoking also has positive effects on mental health and well-being. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2014 discovered that people who quit smoking demonstrated lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress than those who continued to smoke. They also experienced heightened levels of positive emotions and life satisfaction.
“Quitting smoking can be a challenge for many people,” said Dr. Jonathan Foulds, a professor of public health sciences and psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine. “But it is one of the best things you can do for your health and happiness.”
Dr. Foulds added that there are numerous effective methods and resources available to help smokers quit, including nicotine replacement therapy, medication, counseling, support groups, apps, and websites.
“Quitting smoking is not easy, but it is possible,” he said. “The sooner you quit, the sooner you will start to feel the benefits.”