The serious health risks associated with smoking (COPD, heart disease and several types of cancer to name just three) is a subject we’ve discussed previously, and at some length.
We’ve talked with smoking cessation experts about the various practices people can adopt to give them a better chance at quitting, examined some helpful mental approaches, and we’ve also put together a timeline of the numerous health benefits a quitter might expect experience as they go through the quitting process.
To some, particularly younger smokers or people who haven’t been smoking for very long, the more serious risks of smoking might seem abstract and quite distant, and not an issue which means that they have to quit right now; they might see quitting as something they’ll get around to eventually, but not today.
But in actuality, the sooner you give up, the better; the longer you smoke, the harder it becomes to quit.
In addition to significantly reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, there are several lesser known health benefits associated with giving up, which you’re more likely to notice shortly after giving up as you go about your everyday life.
With the January quit drive just around the corner, we thought it might be useful to discuss some of the lesser known (but perhaps more physically obvious) benefits of giving up in more detail, including:
- increased energy levels
- improved blood flow and circulation
- reduced risk of premature skin aging
- improved sense of taste and smell
- and better sleep
Prior to what many smokers may think, smoking does not increase energy levels. In fact, it can lower them overall.
It is true that the nicotine found in cigarettes acts as a stimulant (raising cortisol levels in the body if they’re low), so a smoker may feel a short burst of energy when they smoke. However this effect is short lived, and can leave the smoker feeling on edge as the level of chemicals drop, meaning that they feel the urge to light up again.
Smoking also reduces the amount of oxygen being pumped around the body which can increase feelings of fatigue.
Giving up smoking can help to normalise energy levels so that they become more constant (meaning that you’ll be less likely to experience peaks and troughs than you would if you smoked), so you should feel tired and lethargic less.
Blood is vital for the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to muscles and organs; and smoking can dramatically impact how effectively blood is circulated throughout the body.
Smoking can cause plaque to build up in the arteries (atherosclerosis) which creates a narrower passage for blood. There are several ways this can negatively impact on someone's health. The more clogged up the arteries are, the harder the heart has to work to pump oxygen-rich blood around the body. This can put extra pressure on the heart, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Poor blood circulation can also impact on a person’s sex life; and particularly so if they’re male. Normal blood supply to the penis can be restricted if plaque builds up in the arteries, leading to erectile dysfunction. If you do smoke and begin to notice erectile dysfunction issues, then one of the first things your doctor will suggest is to quit smoking.
In addition to this, inhibited circulation can dull sensitivity in nerve endings, which can make feeling sexual stimulation in response to physical contact more difficult.
Once you have quit, you should start to see signs that your circulation is improving, such as:
- exercise becoming easier
- better sexual function (in men)
- being less prone to pins and needles (arms and legs ‘going to sleep’)
- toe and finger nails being less brittle
- wounds and sores healing more easily.
Smoking can cause premature ageing of the skin. The carbon monoxide in cigarettes reduces the amount of oxygen being pumped around the body, including to the skin. When less oxygen is delivered to the the thick sub-layer of skin containing many blood capillaries (dermis) it can look sallow, easily wrinkled and discoloured.
Smoking also impairs the production of collagen, a protein used to give structure to our skin which helps to keep it looking plump and youthful.
Unfortunately quitting smoking is unlikely to actively reverse any damage that has already happened to your skin, but stopping smoking can help to slow down further damage from taking place.
If you stop smoking and adopt a sensible skin care regime it is possible that you could notice a difference in the quality of your skin within just a few weeks.
Smoking dulls your sense of taste and smell. Whilst the loss of these senses might not directly impact your physical health, it might mean that you enjoy food less.
In some cases, this might even cause you to add more salt to food in order to be able to taste something (and eating too much salt can have a very considerable impact on physical health).
Not being able to smell as well might also mean you appreciate certain experiences less, such as walking in the countryside or going to a spa.
When you give up smoking, these senses return to normal fairly quickly. Better tasting food, combined with a better appreciation for aromas and smells can help to spur people on during the earlier more difficult weeks of a quit attempt.
Several studies have linked smoking to poor sleep hygiene.
The stimulating effect of nicotine may cause smokers to struggle to get to sleep, especially if a cigarette is smoked close to the person’s bedtime.
Smokers may also experience withdrawal symptoms during the night which may disrupt sleep.
A quit attempt may initially cause smokers to experience disrupted sleep, but this is likely to pass after a short time and lead to better sleep overall.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for several reasons, including good immune function, mood, mental alertness and lowering the risk of chronic illnesses.
If you want to know more about giving up smoking or need help, you can find services near you through the NHS smokefree website, and your doctor can provide helpful guidance too.
More on quitting smoking is also available on our information pages.