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Quitting smoking: What happens to your body when you stop smoking cigarettes?

Almost immediately, you can begin to see the benefits of giving up cigarettes.

A woman lighting a cigarette and smoking with a puff of smoke. (Stock Image)
What happens to your body when you stop smoking? What to know (Stock Image)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Whether it's one of your New Year's resolutions or you're just ready to give up the habit, there's never a bad time to stop smoking — and you can begin to see results almost immediately. Here's what happens to your body when you stop smoking.

One hour after your last cigarette

You start reaping the benefits of being a nonsmoker within minutes of quitting. Twenty minutes after you put out your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and your circulation starts to improve. The tiny hairs in your lungs, called cilia, that move mucus through your bronchial tubes begin moving again and working more effectively. This may initially cause you to cough more than when you were smoking because they're working to clear your lungs.

12 hours after your last cigarette

When you inhale cigarette smoke, you take in many toxins, including carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide accumulates in your blood and interferes with your body's ability to absorb oxygen. When you've gone 12 hours without a cigarette, your body can eliminate the excess carbon monoxide, and your oxygen levels return to normal.

24 hours after your last cigarette

By the end of your first day as a nonsmoker, the nicotine level in your blood is almost normal, and you've reduced your chances of having a heart attack. Your blood vessels are less constricted, and more oxygen is getting to your heart, helping it function normally. Unfortunately, as nicotine leaves your system, it also creates powerful cravings for a cigarette.

Final cigarette stubbed out, end of smoking
Within just 12 hours, the affects of quitting smoking are already beginning.

48 hours after your last cigarette

Smoking contracts your blood vessels and damages your nerves, including the nerves responsible for taste and smell. The good news is the healing process begins just 48 hours after you quit. You may notice that flavours are more intense, and your sense of smell is more acute. You'll smell better to others, too, as the tobacco smell begins to dissipate from your home and clothes.

72 hours after your last cigarette

Your cravings will begin to fade and will be more manageable when they do occur. There's no nicotine in your blood now, which is good, but you may experience moodiness, headaches and irritability as your body adjusts. Your bronchial tubes are relaxing and facilitating more effective air exchange, so you may notice you're breathing easier and feeling more energetic. However, you may still be coughing more due to the increased activity of your cilia.

Two weeks to 2 months after your last cigarette

Your breathing will continue to improve as your lung function increases up to 30 per cent. You'll find exercise easier, and your circulation will continue to improve.

Three months after your last cigarette

Your immune system will function better, making you less likely to get sick. You'll notice you're wheezing and coughing less as your lungs improve at removing tar, dust and mucus.

Six months after your last cigarette

By your six-month anniversary of quitting, you're likely to handle stress better without feeling like you desperately need a cigarette. You'll notice you're not coughing up as much phlegm, and you don't have as much sinus congestion.

Smoking. Woman extinguishing cigarette in glass ashtray
After a year of not smoking, your risk of developing heart disease has decreased to half that of a smoker and will continue to decrease.

One year after your last cigarette

Congratulations on making it one year smoke-free! You've probably saved thousands of dollars by now, so treat yourself to something special or invest it so you can retire early and enjoy your good health. Additionally, your risk of developing heart disease has decreased to half that of a smoker and will continue to decrease.

Three years after your last cigarette

Your risk of having a heart attack has decreased to the level of a nonsmoker. Smoking damages your heart in several ways, including increasing your cholesterol, weakening your heart and making your blood sticky and harder to pump. When you quit smoking, you start reversing all of that damage.

Five years after your last cigarette

Smoking causes your blood vessels to narrow and increases your likelihood of developing blood clots. After five years without a cigarette, your arteries have widened, and your blood is less likely to clot. This reduces your risk of having a stroke. Women who quit smoking for five years have cut their risk of developing cervical cancer to that of a nonsmoker.

10 years after your last cigarette

After 10 years as a nonsmoker, your chance of dying from lung cancer is half what it would be if you continued to smoke. You've also reduced your risks of developing other types of cancer, including mouth, throat and pancreatic cancer.

20 years after your last cigarette

Yes, it's been a long time coming, but this is a huge milestone. Twenty years after you quit smoking, your risk of dying from smoking-related causes is the same as if you'd never smoked.

Getting help quitting

If you've tried to quit smoking before and failed, don't give up. It takes an average of eight to 11 attempts for most people to successfully quit. You don't need to go it alone, either. Reach out to your healthcare provider for resources to help.

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