We've already described the negative consequences of smoking, but do you know how many benefits you can gain from quitting? You might be surprised! First and foremost, the decision to quit smoking can truly be a life-saving one. Just as continuing to smoke sets you up to experience life-threatening health problems, quitting can reverse the process, making you healthier today and more likely to avoid serious health problems in the future. Quitting can also improve your social interactions and can put money in your pocket. This section outlines some of the reasons that may help you to decide that the benefits of quitting are greater than the benefits of continuing to use tobacco.
Health and Vitality Benefits
Because many of the health risks associated with smoking can lead to death, the most important benefit of smoking cessation is the ability to choose life over death. Regardless of the actual symptoms individual smoker's experience, it is estimated that the average male smoker loses about 13 years of life and the average female smoker loses about 14 years of life. Also, because the effects of quitting start on the very day you stop smoking, former smokers live longer than people who continue to smoke.
Smoking cessation has immediate and long term consequences for a smoker's health. The American Cancer Society reports the following benefits of smoking cessation, based on Surgeon Generals' Reports in 1988 and 1990:
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- 20 minutes after quitting blood pressure drops to a level close to that before the last cigarette. Temperature of hands and feet return to normal.
- 8 hours after quitting the level of carbon monoxide in the blood returns to normal.
- 24 hours after quitting the risk of a heart attack decreases.
- 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting circulation improves and lung function increases up to 30%.
- 1 to 9 months after quitting symptoms such as coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath decrease. Cilia (tiny hair-like structures in the lungs that remove mucus from the lungs) regain normal function which increases the ability for them to clean the lungs and reduce infection.
- 1 year after quitting the extra risk of coronary heart disease is reduced to half that of a smoker.
- 5 to 15 years after quitting smoking stroke risk is reduced to the level of a nonsmoker.
- 10 years after quitting the death rate from lung cancer is about half that of someone who continues to smoke. Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases.
- 15 years after quitting risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a nonsmoker.
Quitting smoking also reduces the effects of tobacco on your physical appearance and improves social interaction with nonsmokers by:
- reducing premature wrinkling of the skin
- eliminating bad breath associated with smoking
- eliminating a major cause for stained teeth
- reducing the risk of gum disease
- eliminating the smoke smell from your clothing and hair
- eliminating a cause of yellow fingernails.
Smoking also has many effects on your body that have become a part of your life so gradually that you might not even be aware of them. Once you quit smoking you will notice that:
- food tastes better
- your sense of smell will return to normal
- it will take more activity for you to be out of breath
- you will feel more energetic and your stamina for physical activity will increase
- exercise will become more enjoyable
- breaks at work will no longer have to revolve around smoking
- you will no longer have to go outside in inclement weather to smoke
- you, your clothes, your car, and your house will no longer smell like smoke
- falling ashes will no longer damage your clothes
- if you are single, you will have a larger group of people to date and possibly establish a long term relationship with
- you will no longer be burdened by social stigmas associated with being a smoker
You probably haven't even considered some of these benefits, but knowing how quitting can improve your life can provide you with increased motivation to kick the habit.
If health improvements and more social freedom don't motivate you to quit, consider the financial rewards. To find out how much money you can save by quitting smoking, take the cost per day for your smoking materials and multiply it by 365 days. Surprised? Now multiply that amount by 10 so you can see how much you could save in the next 10 years.
Chances are you've never considered how much money you could save by quitting because smoking is a normal part of your everyday life. Right now you are accustomed to living without the money you spend on tobacco products and supplies. When you quit, it should be simple to switch from paying for your habit to putting money in the bank, where you can watch it accumulate instead.
Many people are afraid to quit smoking because they don't want to gain weight. Many smokers do gain some weight when they quit smoking—an average of five to seven pounds— and women gain slightly more weight than men. It is important to keep in mind that most smokers are about five to seven pounds underweight anyhow, so the weight a person gains when they quit smoking often simply returns them to their optimum weight. Another thing to keep in mind is that most people gain fewer than 10 pounds, even without making any changes to diet or regular exercise routines. If a person gains more than ten pounds while quitting smoking, other factors are typically to blame. The bottom line, however, is that the addition of a few pounds is worth the benefits you will gain from quitting.
If you are concerned about gaining weight when you quit smoking, evaluate which is more important to you–quitting the habit or quitting the habit without gaining weight. For some people, it important to focus on the goal of quitting, and worrying about gaining weight only makes the process more difficult. Others can make maintaining their weight or improving their overall fitness level a part of the process of quitting. It is up to you to decide which method will work for you.
Keep in mind that food will begin to taste better to you as your body starts to eliminate the effects of nicotine, making this a perfect time to reacquaint yourself with healthy food choices. Try fresh, raw vegetables when you get the urge to snack, and be sure to drink plenty of water to help flush the nicotine from your system. Also, choose low-fat or fat-free varieties of your favorite foods. Because nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant, you may find that you feel hungry more often once you quit smoking. Plan three nutritious meals and two or three nutritious snacks each day, but do not increase the number of calories you eat. Eat slowly so you can savor your food, leave the table as soon as you are finished, and brush your teeth right away so you won't be tempted to eat more. Maintaining calorie intake and eating small meals and light snacks throughout the day instead of three large meals can help you to maintain your weight.
As your endurance levels increase and light exercise becomes easier, beginning an exercise routine might be also good idea. Exercise can help to relieve stress and can serve as a substitute activity for smoking. It is a good idea to plan to include a minimum of 20–30 minutes of exercise into your daily schedule. As you are able to increase the intensity of your workout you will discover that exercise has important psychological benefits. Many of the psychological benefits you may feel you get from tobacco can also be obtained from exercise. Exercise can not only make you feel more energetic in general, but can also improve your quality of sleep and help you relax when under stress.
If you decide to begin an exercise routine, select activities you think you might enjoy and give them a try. Walking is a great activity to substitute for smoking. Instead of an after dinner smoke, take a walk. Another option is to take a yoga class and take note of positions you find most relaxing. When you feel stressed, spend a few minutes in one of your favorite positions instead of smoking or eating. Plan non-food and non-tobacco related rewards to keep you motivated to work toward you goal. Having an exercise plan and alternate activities to take the place of smoking can help you to maintain your weight.
Regardless of how you plan to deal with potential weight gain, keep in mind that the most important part of your goal is to actually stop smoking. If you find that it is too difficult to watch your weight and quit smoking at the same time, concentrate on giving up smoking first, and make a promise to yourself to start working on your weight as soon as you have successfully quit. Remember, the long term benefits of quitting outweigh the short term effects of weight gain.
Once you are aware of the advantages and disadvantages associated with quitting and have made the decision to quit, you are ready to move into the Preparation stage. During this stage, you will decide which approach to quitting is appropriate for you.