When You Quit Smoking: A Timeline to Better Health
The benefits of quitting begin within half an hour of smoking that last cigarette. Learn how your body can benefit over time after quitting.

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Picture of man smiling When You Quit Smoking: A Timeline to Better Health

You know that quitting smoking provides long-term health benefits. But did you know that the positive changes kick in as soon as 20 minutes after your last cigarette? And as few as 5 years after giving up smoking, your risk of stroke may be back to that of a nonsmoker.

Better yet, it's never too late to give up this habit and reap the benefits. You'll come out on top no matter how old you are or how long you have smoked. Quitting at age 35 can add up to 8.5 years to your life. Quitting at age 55 will still add more than 1 year to your life expectancy on average.

A quitter's timeline: when the benefits kick in
Here's a guide to when you can expect certain improvements in your health after you quit smoking.

  • The first day: Just 20 minutes after you quit, your blood pressure will go down toward a normal level and your heart rate will slow down. After 12 hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood will return to normal.
  • From 2 weeks to 3 months: Blood circulation and lung function will improve.
  • From 1 month to 9 months: You may start to be less short of breath and may cough less. That's due in part to your cilia working better. Cilia are the tiny hair-like structures in your lungs that help "sweep away" mucus. This also helps reduce your risk of getting an infection.
  • After 1 year: Making it this far is a huge milestone. And now your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.
  • After 5 years: Strike another health risk off the list. Your chances of having a stroke may be back to that of a nonsmoker.
  • After 10 years: Have you been worried about lung cancer? By now, the lung cancer death rate of a former smoker is about half that of someone who continued to light up. Other cancer risks, including those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas, also decrease.
  • After 15 years: It's taken a while, but now your risk of coronary heart disease is as low as a nonsmoker's. You have probably lengthened your life.

Beyond the health benefits
Cigarettes also have an impact on everyday life - from your breath to your sense of taste. Thankfully, these unpleasant side effects will also reverse after a smoker quits.

Dulled senses of smell and taste will rebound. Breath, hair, and clothes will smell better once you stop smoking. Teeth and fingernails won't turn yellow anymore.

And there's more! The condition of your skin may improve, leaving you looking younger. And, of course, there's the perk of not becoming winded after going up a flight of steps or taking a walk.

Need motivation?
There is no debate about the serious health risks of smoking: high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased risk of stroke. If you or someone you know is thinking about quitting, print out this article and post it somewhere in the house. Let it be an inspiring reminder of the short-term and long-term

By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer
Created on 07/22/2008
Updated on 09/19/2011
Sources:
  • American Cancer Society. Can quitting really help a lifelong smoker?
  • American Lung Association. Benefits of quitting.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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