February 13, 2023

What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking?

Health benefits start within 20 minutes and continue to grow for years after

Scissors cutting a lit cigarette.

If you’re a smoker and want to feel healthier and be healthier, there’s a quick and clear way to accomplish that goal: STOP SMOKING. Just snuff out that final cigarette and don’t light up again.

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It won’t take long to get results. In fact, within 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your body will start undoing the damage caused by the harmful habit.

But that’s just the beginning of the healing when you stop smoking. The days, weeks and months that follow bring numerous changes for the better within your body, says pulmonologist Humberto Choi, MD.

So, let’s take a closer look with Dr. Choi at what happens when you quit smoking.

What to expect after you quit smoking

First, congratulations! Making the decision to stop smoking is a life-changing and life-extending action. The American Cancer Society estimates that quitting smoking can add as much as 10 years to your life.

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves looking that far into the future. These positive changes may start quickly but they don’t all happen at once, explains Dr. Choi. It takes time.

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Here’s a breakdown of the benefits when you quit smoking and when you might see them.

After 20 minutes

  • Decrease in blood pressure. Your blood pressure rises within minutes of your first drag on a cigarette and hit of nicotine. It drops back down to normal levels within 20 minutes after smoking.
  • Drop in heart rate. Smoking just one cigarette a day has been shown to raise your heart rate, making your ticker work harder to get its job done. Why is this important? A higher heart rate is considered a strong predictor of death from cardiovascular causes.
  • Temperature increases in hands and feet. Smoking causes your blood vessels to narrow, which can constrict blood flow to your extremities. Those blood vessels start to open back up quickly once you put out your cigarette.

After 8 hours

  • Decrease in carbon monoxide in your blood. You’ve heard of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, right? Well, smoking basically brings that poison into your blood in smaller doses. Smokers often have CO levels four to 15 times higher than nonsmokers.
  • Blood oxygen levels increase. As CO levels go down, oxygen levels go up ­— which basically benefits every part of your body.

After 24 hours

  • Reduced risk of a heart attack. Smoking causes approximately 1 in 4 deaths from cardiovascular disease, according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

After 48 hours

  • Nerve endings begin to recover. Smoking restricts blood flow to nerve cells, which can lead to numbness and tingling. Pain sensitivity also tends to be higher in people who smoke.
  • The ability to taste improves. The ability to taste grows dull when you smoke, making food seem much less yummy. Smoking has been connected to ageusia, or the loss of the sense of taste.

After 72 hours

  • Easier breathing. Take a deep breath and enjoy as your bronchial tubes begin to relax without irritation from smoke.

After 1 to 3 months

  • Improved circulation. More than 7,000 chemicals, many toxic, are in tobacco smoke. That gunk irritates the cells lining your blood vessels, leading to inflammation that slows circulation.
  • Energy for exercise. Want to go for a long hike or bike ride? If so, it’ll feel easier as your body’s ongoing repairs after your last smoke make you better able to handle the rigors of exercise.

After 1 to 9 months

  • Less coughing. More than 40% of daily smokers report a chronic cough. That should stop once you kick the habit. Expect to see fewer issues with sinus congestion and shortness of breath, too.
  • Regrowth of cilia in your lungs. Toxins in smoking tobacco paralyze the cilia in your lungs. The sweeping motion of these hair-like organelles works to keep your airways clean.

After 1 year

  • Risk of heart disease drops significantly. Your reward for kicking the smoking habit for a full year? Your risk of heart disease decreases to half that of a current smoker.

After 5 years

  • No more increased risk of stroke. After five years without a cigarette, your risk of stroke is the same as someone who never smoked.

After 10 years

  • Reduced lung cancer risk. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from the disease, reports the CDC. That risk is cut in half after a decade of not smoking.
  • Reduced overall cancer risk. Your odds of avoiding other cancers — including those of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas — also go down over time.

Cost savings of not smoking

Smoking isn’t just an unhealthy habit. It’s an expensive one.

The average person who smokes lights 14 cigarettes per day. That habit costs $4.40 per day, according to a spending calculator at smokefree.gov. Over time, that adds up to some serious cash.

Using that 14-cigarettes-a-day average, this is what you can expect to save when you stop smoking.

  • $31 a week.
  • $132 a month.
  • $1,606 a year.
  • $24,044 over 10 years (given estimated price increases).
  • $64,228 over 20 years (given estimated price increases).

Taking action to quit

It’s hard to understate the positives that come when you quit smoking. It’s worth doing in so many different ways.

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But it does take work and it won’t be easy. “Two to three days in, your withdrawal symptoms will be at their worst,” states Dr. Choi. “Hang in there, though. They should subside entirely in a few weeks.”

For the best chance of success, create a quit plan and build a support system to stay motivated. Consider talking to your healthcare provider about a smoking cessation program. There are online services to quit smoking, too.

“Most smokers try three times before successfully quitting,” encourages Dr. Choi. “Don’t give up. Even if you’ve been a lifelong smoker, it is never too late to quit.”

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