What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Smoking?

Why and how to kick the habit.


Chandre Davids |

We don’t have to tell you that smoking is bad for your health and that of those around you. It’s a problem, and the addiction kills tens of thousands every year. According to the Tobacco Atlas, a report aimed at uncovering the dangers of the tobacco industry, more than 55 000 children (between the age 10-14) and 6 321 000 adults (15+ years old) smoke every day in South Africa. Amongst the adults, 42 100 people a year will die from tobacco related illness. Take a look at why it’s a good reason to ditch the bad habit and just how it can save your life.

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It causes heart disease

We are all well aware of the link between smoking and cancer, but what about heart disease? Did you know that tobacco contains over 7000 chemicals. Let’s look at the effects of the three most known chemicals – nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide. Nicotine, a highly addictive substance, can cause an increased heart rate, blood pressure and weaken the heart’s ability to contract.

Tar can lead to inflammation and impairment of the lining of your blood vessels and enhance the formation of blood clots. Cigarettes produce carbon monoxide which replaces the oxygen in your blood. This reduces the amount of oxygen reaching your heart and body tissues. These three chemicals alone are a recipe for disaster, imagine how the other 6997 chemicals can damage your body further.

Brain aneurysms and strokes

Smoking increases your risk of a stroke by 50%! It increases the bad cholesterol in your blood and, since it pushes up your blood pressure, strokes are way more common in smokers. And with smoking decreasing the amount of oxygen in your blood and weakening the blood vessels, you are more at risk of a brain aneurysm. With the weakening of blood vessels, blood flows much slower, increasing the formation of blood clots. If these clots are formed in one of the vessels leading to the brain, it will result in a ischaemic stroke.

Related: 5 Ways To Stop Smoking – And Keep Up Quitting Forever

It’s not too late

Okay, if you’ve been scared straight or need a bit more convincing, here’s some great facts that show it’s not too late to turn back the clock.

Within 1 hour

20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate drops and returns to normal. Your blood pressure drops and circulation improves.

Within 12 hours

Your body starts to cleanse itself of the excess carbon monoxide.

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Within 24 hours

Your blood pressure would have returned to normal, decreasing your risk of a stroke and heart attack. Your oxygen levels would have risen, making exercise and other physical activities way more doable.

Within 1 month

Your lung function would have improved, leading to less coughing and shortness of breath.

Within 1 year

Your risk of coronary heart disease decreases by half!

Related: STUDY: Smoking Cigarettes Causes One Third Of All Cancer Deaths (Not Just Lung Cancer!)

Within 5 years

By now, your blood vessels and arteries would have begun to widen again. Meaning a decreased risk in the development of blood clots, lowering your risk of stroke.

Within 20 years

After 20 years, your risk of lung cancer and disease drops to the level of a person that has never smoked. Your risk of developing coronary heart disease also becomes the same as a non-smoker, as well as your chances of pancreatic cancer.

Related: Here’s Why You Feel Like Crap When You Quit Smoking

Sometimes quitting is a great idea

If you are ready to give it up and give your health a chance, there are loads of options available to help you take a step in the right direction. The Cancer Association of South Africa has a free online course to help you kick the habit. You can also check out the HelpGuide, which gives great self help advice. Or if you feel that you aren’t up to doing this on your own, you can see a physiologist who will help you deal with the addiction.

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