It’s January and many of us will no doubt be turning over a new leaf, and making a commitment to being healthier. For some of us, this might mean going without alcohol for a few weeks; for others, it might mean starting a new healthier diet, or taking up more exercise.

Some may also see the New Year as a prime opportunity to make a clean break from cigarettes and quit smoking.

With this in mind, we thought it might be interesting to put together a visual timeline showing the various physical benefits of kicking the habit, and roughly where along their journey the quitter can expect to notice these:

[click on the image to enlarge]

Timeline -of -a -Quitter _0.4 (1)

Health risks

The vast majority of us are aware of the health risks associated with smoking. Some of the more serious conditions among these are: heart disease; several forms of cancer; COPD; and vascular disease. Smoking can also lead to gum disease, weaken the immune system and premature skin-ageing.

However smoking is a notoriously addictive habit, and those who do smoke may often put off giving up, because they know how difficult a task it can be.

Getting through a tough day at work, or through a social event where other people are going to be lighting up might not seem doable without cigarettes. As a result, it’s common for those of us who do smoke to view quitting as something we’ll get around to eventually; but not something we’re quite ready to do in the short term.

But as we’ve discussed previously, when it comes to smoking, the sooner you give up the better. Stopping will reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as those described above, and improve your overall quality of life; not to mention save you quite a lot of money too.

How long does it take the body to get over the effects of smoking?

Withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, feelings of stress and increased irritability, are collectively perhaps the most daunting prospect of giving up. In many cases it is these effects that cause smokers to relapse. Everyday tasks and situations might seem more stressful than usual as nicotine levels in the body begin to subside.

However, these symptoms are only temporary, and those who persevere through the first couple of difficult days will begin to notice positive changes in their health.

Obviously how much you smoked and how long you smoked for can impact on how long it takes your body to recover: but for many ex-smokers, blood pressure and oxygen levels start to improve in just a few hours; while the outwardly noticeable physical benefits of giving up will begin to materialise within a matter of days.

Timeline of a Quitter

After 20 minutes

Smoking increases your heart rate. After 20 minutes of not smoking, your heart rate will begin to drop back down towards normal levels.

After 2 hours

At this point your heart rate will reach near normal levels, and your blood pressure will have improved. Early withdrawal symptoms set in, and these may include nicotine cravings, difficulty sleeping, frustration, increased appetite, lethargy and drowsiness.

After 8-12 hours

Levels of carbon monoxide in the body begin to drop at this stage. As a result, oxygen levels in the blood begin to increase, meaning more oxygen can get around the body.

After 1 day

The risk of heart disease, which is 70% higher among smokers compared to non-smokers, begins to decrease.

After 2 days

The nerve endings begin to repair themselves, which means that your sense of taste and smell should begin to improve. The feelings in your extremities (fingers and toes) should also get better too. The lungs will also begin the task of jettisoning mucus and plaque built up from smoke inhalation.

After 2-3 days

Falling nicotine levels will bottom out by this point, meaning this is when more pronounced withdrawal symptoms may be at their worst. At first these might include headaches, feeling sick, sweating more than usual, anxiety or irritability. However, these should improve after the first couple of weeks. Bronchial tubes in the respiratory tract will also become less tense and more relaxed, making it easier to breathe.

From 14 days onwards

Circulation in the body starts to improve. This will make it easier for you to exercise and provide a boost to your immune system, so you are better able to fend off infections. More oxygen moving around the body also reduces the likelihood of headaches.

From 1 month onwards

Protective tissues in the lungs called cilia start to heal, and begin shifting mucus more easily. This contributes towards improved lung function. Withdrawal symptoms should completely subside in the first 1-9 months after giving up, depending on how long you smoked for.

From 3 months onwards

As your lung function becomes even better from not smoking, respiratory symptoms such as coughing and wheezing will further subside.

After 1 year

By this point, the risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.

After 5 years

Stroke risk begins to fall.

After 10 years

Lung cancer risk is 50% lower than a smoker’s, and the risk of other cancers is also lower.

After 15 years

By this stage, the risk of heart attack is the same as that of a person who has never smoked.

In the meantime....

  • Those who quit smoking should also notice a range of other health benefits along the way, such as:
  • better libido (and erectile function in men)
  • healthier, younger-looking skin
  • healthier teeth and gums
  • increased fertility
  • and lower stress levels

On average, people who don’t smoke are thought to live for up to 10 years longer than people who do.

A pack of 20 cigarettes currently costs around £9.60. However, this is estimated to increase by 50% in the next 5 years.

If someone who smokes 5 packs per week (around 14-15 per day) gave up, they would save £45 per week (which adds up to £2,340 over the course of a year).

Help is available

Quitting smoking can be hard, but there are services that can provide assistance and make the process easier. You can read more on the services available at NHS Smokefree, and you can read more on smoking cessation aids on our stop smoking information pages.