Smoking Cessation for Older Adults: It's Not Too Late!
"But I've been smoking for 45 years."
"The damage has already been done."
"Why shouldn't I enjoy my cigarettes? It doesn't matter at my age."
The truth is, it does matter. Seniors who quit smoking tend to enjoy better health and quality of life than their peers who continue to smoke.
Gaining Health Benefits
Many people do not realize that smoking cessation has immediate and long-term benefits. One study of adults (aged 50-74 years) without a history of heart attack or stroke were followed for 9 years. Current and former smokers experienced a first heart attack, stroke, or death from heart-related diseases over 2 times more than nonsmokers. But, researchers found the risks from smoking decreased after smokers quit, regardless of age, how much one smoked, or for how long.
The benefits of quitting increase over time as your body heals itself.
In one day:
- Blood circulation increases
- Carbon monoxide levels in the blood decrease
- Heart rate and blood pressure decrease
In several days to several weeks:
- Sense of taste and smell improves
- Lung capacity increases
- Breathing becomes easier
In several weeks to nine months:
- Energy level increases
- Lungs become cleaner and more functional
- Colds and other respiratory tract infections become less common
- Sinus congestion decreases
- Shortness of breath decreases
- Risk of heart disease, heart attack , and lung cancer decreases (risk can eventually be similar to that of a lifelong nonsmoker)
- Risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus , larynx , bladder , pancreas , and kidney decreases
- Risk of dying decreases
Gaining Even More Benefits
Quitting smoking has additional health benefits, such as decreased risk of peripheral artery disease , stroke , and chronic lung disease ( bronchitis , emphysema , and asthma ). Giving up cigarettes may also reduce your risk of cataracts , macular degeneration , thyroid conditions, hearing loss, erectile dysfunction , dementia , and osteoporosis .
Even if you already have a chronic disease, quitting smoking may help reduce the severity of your symptoms and keep you healthier longer. Still think it is too late?
"But I have been smoking for 45 years!" you say. "I'll never be able to quit smoking at this point."
You may be surprised to hear that older smokers are usually more successful at quitting smoking than younger smokers. This is especially true if they already have health problems, particularly those associated with smoking.
Studies suggest that elderly persons who ask their doctors about help for smoking cessation are more likely to get that help and may be more likely to be successful quitters. At your next medical visit do not forget to ask what you and your doctor together can do to help you kick the habit.
Preparing to Quit
Using Helpful Strategies
Learning How to Handle Stress
Many people go back to smoking sometimes years after quitting when a crisis hits. Plan ahead for how you will handle a stressful event such as a death, divorce, retirement, illness, etc. That way, you will not be caught off guard.
Most ex-smokers make several attempts to quit before they are successful. If you start smoking again, do not let feelings of regret, guilt, or failure get a handle on you. Learn from your setbacks and get right back on the program. It is not too late!
- Michael Woods, MD
- Reviewed: 08/2014
- Updated: 08/08/2014
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