What happens after you stop smoking: A timeline

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There is life after smoking

Can your body heal itself after you quit smoking? The experts agree that the sooner you stop the better for your body.

Smoking has many negative effects on your health, including putting you at a far greater risk for heart attacks and strokes, and leading to numerous types of cancer. Quitting smoking, however, results in immediate improvements to your health. These benefits begin as little as an hour after your last cigarette and continues as long as your body stays nicotine free. Here’s what happens when you stop smoking.

1. The cancer risk is instantly reduced

‘Tobacco causes over 18 types of cancer and accounts for over 20% of cancer deaths worldwide, and about 85% of lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoking,’ says Lorraine Govender, national advocacy officer at Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). However, the sooner a smoker quits, the faster they will reduce their risk of cancer, heart and lung disease, and other conditions related to smoking.

2. It will be easier to exercise

As soon as 1 day after quitting smoking, blood pressure begins to drop, decreasing the risk of heart disease from smoking-induced high blood pressure. In this short time, oxygen levels will also have increased, making physical activity easier. As lungs start to heal, breathing will get better and exercise capacity will improve, too. There might be more coughing at first, but that’s just the lungs getting rid of residual nicotine and other impurities.

3. Quitting smoking can improve mental health

Many smokers believe that smoking helps to reduce stress and anxiety, but a study published in the British Medical Journal found that, in fact, smoking cessation can boost your mental health. It’s associated with reduced depression, anxiety and stress, as well as more positive moods and quality of life.

4. A brighter smile

‘Most changes in the mouth due to smoking are reversible, including bad breath and yellowed teeth,’ says Dr Abinash Achrekar, assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the University of New Mexico. According to the doctor, the yellow stains will fade once you quit smoking, and you will be at a lower risk for gum recession and periodontal disease.

Everything will smell and taste better

Tobacco directly alters the shape of your taste buds, rendering them useless, and smoking also damages your olfactory nerves. Recovering a sense of smell and taste is one of the first things smokers notice after quitting smoking – often within the first couple of days. Breath, hair and clothes also smell better.

While the benefits of quitting smoking are vast, long-term smoking (10–20 years) can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis or emphysema, from which the lungs never fully recover or heal. Some inflammation can be treated with medication, but advanced emphysema that affects the walls of the air sacs in the lungs is permanent. So the sooner you stop smoking, the better.

Here's how soon you can expect to experience these benefits:

If you’re looking for inspiration to help you quit, take a look at these tips and testimonials from former smokers.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE. Life Healthcare Group Ltd does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the reader as a result of the information provided.