Here’s How Long It Takes Your Body to Reverse the Damage of Smoking

In case you haven’t heard, smoking is really, really bad for you. According to the Surgeon General’s Report, smoking causes one out of every four deaths from cardiovascular disease in the United States, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. One recent study even found that having just one cigarette a day can significantly shorten your lifespan. In spite of that fact, the most recent statistics on smoking state that more than 15 of every 100 Americans aged 18 years or older currently smoke cigarettes, which adds up to about 37.8 million adults in the United States.

Luckily, you can reverse the effects of smoking by quitting. But, according to new research soon to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Chicago, it might take longer for your heart to bounce back than you’d think.

Researchers analyzed the lifetime smoking history of 8,700 participants of the Framingham Heart Study, and found that 70 percent of cardiovascular disease events such as stroke, heart attack, and and heart failure in current or former smokers occurred among those who had smoked a pack a day for 20 years. The results also showed that, contrary to popular belief, their risk of cardiovascular disease only decreased by 38 percent in the first five years after they quit. But how long did it take to for smokers’ heart health to return to those of non-smokers?

Sixteen years.

“These findings underscore the benefits of quitting smoking within five years, which is 38 percent lower risk of a heart attack, stroke, or other forms of cardiovascular disease risk compared to people who continue to smoke. We also found that cardiovascular disease risk remains elevated for up to 16 years for former smokers compared to people who have never smoked,” Meredith Duncan, a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of the study said. “The bottom line is if you smoke, now is a very good time to quit.”

Sixteen years may seem like a long time, but think of it this way. While heart attacks can happen at any age, the risk increases significantly as you get older, and the average age for a first-time heart attack is 66 for men and 70 for women. A lot of smokers who are middle-aged like to say that it’s “too late to quit,” but it’s not. Even if you’re in your 50s, you can still largely reverse the effects of smoking by the time you become most vulnerable to heart disease.

There are other, more immediate benefits to quitting as well. Within two weeks of quitting, the blood circulation in your teeth and gums are similar to that of a non-smoker, your lung function has improved, and your heart attack risk has already started to drop. Best of all, while your cravings may be intense for the first few days,  they get down to just two episodes lasting no longer than three minutes per day by the time you’re only ten days in.

So go ahead and bite the bullet! And if you feel like you’ve tried everything and still couldn’t quit, check out The Single Best Way to Stop Smoking You’ve Never Tried.

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