Why Going Smoke Free Could Keep You on Your Feet

Full disclosure: it is my job to tell you to stop smoking and to help you do it successfully. I’m a nurse and in training to be a primary care provider. Sometimes we are the only person that will stand up and be the bad guy when it comes to smoking. We make it a point to ask you about how many years you have smoked, how many cigarettes you smoke per day, and how you feel about quitting. Every. Single. Visit. So why are we so obnoxious about it? I mean everyone knows smoking is bad for your health, so why the relentless inquisition? Because simply putting down the cigarettes and walking away can almost immediately improve your health. Just because you started smoking as a teenager long before you cared about your state of health when you hit your 40’s and 50’s doesn’t mean it’s too late, or that you can’t reverse some of the damage. Literally minutes after deciding to quit you can see the benefits, although you definitely won’t feel healthier because of nicotine withdrawal. Personally I’d rather have an eye roll thrown in my direction then miss a potentially life saving opportunity to have an honest conversation about smoking. To give you an idea of how quitting can positively and almost immediately benefit your health, here is a timeline of what you can expect once you quit:

20 minutes- Your heart rate has returned to normal.

2 hours- Your blood pressure and circulation have normalized, but unfortunately you are probably starting to withdrawal by now.

12 hours- Carbon monoxide levels in your blood are now back to normal.

24 hours- Your risk of having a heart attack has already decreased!

48 hours- Your sense of smell and taste is heightened in the absence of nicotine, which dulls the senses.

3 days- All nicotine is out of your body, unless you are weaning off with nicotine gum or a patch.

3 weeks- Because of the improvements in your circulation and lung function you can now tolerate exercise better. Withdrawal symptoms have also significantly improved.

9 months- Your lungs have begun to repair themselves, resulting in less coughing and shortness of breath, as well as a decreased risk for infections.

1 year- Congratulations, you are officially considered a non-smoker! Your risk for heart disease is also reduced by an incredible 50%.

5 years- Your risk for stroke is significantly reduced!

10 years- You have reduced your risk for lung cancer by 50%. You have also reduced your risk for mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancer.

15 years- You officially have the same risk for heart disease and stroke as a non-smoker, that is a huge accomplishment!

And yes, you guessed it, smoking plays a big role in MS as well. We have known that smoking is a risk factor for developing MS and that smoking can accelerate MS-related damage, but not many studies have been done to show exactly how much of an effect smoking has. A recent presentation at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting revealed stunning data about smoking and disease progression. Dr. Constantinescu of Nottingham University Hospital found that for every year that you go nicotine free you decrease your risk for reaching an EDSS score of 6 (needing assistance with walking) by 5%. Additionally the risk for developing secondary progressive MS decreases by 3% per year. So only 5 years after quitting you will have decreased your risk for significant disability by 25% compared to when you were smoking! I’m a non-smoker, but if there was something I could do to improve my health that increased my odds of being able to walk independently by 5% per year I would do it in an instant. And if someone showed me scientific proof that something I was doing voluntarily significantly increased my risk for needing a cane or wheelchair, or for developing progressive MS, I would really pay attention. That's exactly what I'm telling you today.

Now, quitting is not easy and successfully quitting is a huge achievement. Talk to your doctor about quitting, and discuss the different methods with them. Finding a strategy that works for you and for your lifestyle is the key to success. I'm going to climb down off my soapbox now, I wish you luck!

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

For trips, which means of travel do you prefer and why?