Let's say you've been smoking for fifty years and you've just been diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Your doctor has ordered you to quit smoking, but you wonder, what's the use? Isn't the damage already done? If I quit now, will it make any difference? The short answer to this question is a big YES. Quitting smoking is still the best thing you can do for yourself.
If you quit smoking, you will significantly slow down or halt the progression of this chronic lung disease. Studies have found that seniors who quit smoking lower their risk of dying prematurely by at least 25%, even after you've been diagnosed with COPD. The sooner you quit, the better.
If you've been smoking for fifty or more years without any known breathing issues, that doesn't mean you should feel free to continue. You are still at risk for other problems, like strokes, cancer, and heart disease. If you continue to smoke well into your golden years, the risk of dying sooner than you would have increases by 40%.
In fact, according to a fact sheet from the Indiana Tobacco and Prevention and Cessation, the body starts to repair itself within 20 minutes of putting out your last cigarette. As soon as you start smoking a cigarette, your heart rate increases by 10 to 15% – it does this to try to compensate for the lack of oxygen and the addition of carbon monoxide you're breathing, which goes right to your bloodstream. Your circulation is hindered, making your hands and feet much colder, as well as the rest of your body. Within 20 minutes of putting out that cigarette, your blood pressure and circulation return to normal.
After 8 hours of putting out your last cigarette, the oxygen level in your blood returns to normal. You might also notice that you can breathe better, and you can walk up and down a flight of stairs without getting winded – this is because the mucus in your lungs has gotten a chance to clear out.
If you haven't lit another cigarette for a full 24 hours, you've already lowered your risk of having a heart attack. You might wake up in the morning with a cough, though – that's your cilia, the tiny hairlike feelers in your lungs, recovering from being covered in tar and going to work, cleaning out the tar and excess mucus. They're doing what they need to do.
After 48 hours, you might be amazed at how much better foods taste and smell. While all that tar is being cleared out, your taste buds and olfactory receptors start to go back to the way they were before you started smoking. You might notice the freshness in the air, and be able to tell if your milk is still fresh enough to drink.
One year later, you've decreased your risk of coronary heart disease by about 50%. Five years later, your risk of stroke goes down to that of a non-smoker. After 10 years, your risk of different types of cancer is significantly lower, and your risk of lung cancer is cut in half.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
Page last updated: October 30, 2018
- JAMA Internal Medicine. Smoking and All-Cause Mortality in Older People. Published: June 11, 2012. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/1182209
- Indiana State Department of Health. It's Never Too Late to Quit Smoking! Published: July 7, 2011. https://www.in.gov/isdh/tpc/files/Never_too_late_to_quit_7_7_2011.pdf