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Seniors: Any age is a good age to quit smoking

Smokers of all ages can benefit from quitting. The health rewards include less risk of serious diseases and better overall health.

After smoking for so many years, you might try to convince yourself that kicking this old habit just seems pointless. It's probably too late to do you any good, right?

Wrong.

The truth is, quitting smoking is a smart move that can improve your health at any time of life.

"There is no age at which it is too late to benefit from stopping smoking—that's the absolute bottom line," says Thomas Glynn, PhD, former director of Cancer Science and Trends, and former director of International Cancer Control for the American Cancer Society.

Rapid rewards

As soon as you quit smoking your body starts to recover. Here are some of the benefits you can expect in the weeks and months after you give up the habit:

  • Your senses of taste and smell will improve. As the days go by you'll notice that your favorite foods taste even better, flowers smell more intense and life in general is more vivid.
  • You'll breathe more easily. As a result, daily activities, from household chores to playing with grandkids, should all become easier to perform without running out of breath.
  • You'll have less risk for pneumonia and other respiratory infections that can be especially dangerous in older people.
  • You'll save money. (You can use this calculator to tally the financial cost of smoking.)
  • Your circulation will improve.
  • You won't expose others to secondhand smoke.
  • You'll set a healthy example. "It's a real gift you can give to your children or grandchildren if you stop," Dr. Glynn says. "Not only because you'll be able to spend more time with them, but also because they're less likely to become chronic smokers."

A brighter future

In addition to offering immediate benefits, quitting smoking will also improve your health in the years to come. According to Dr. Glynn and other experts, after quitting you can look forward to:

A longer life. Men who quit at age 65 can expect to add up to two years to their lives and women can add up to 3.7 years, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. "Those [extra] years might enable you to see your grandchildren graduate from high school or even get married," Dr. Glynn says.

A lower risk of heart disease and stroke. When you quit smoking, your chances of having a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular disease will decline.

"Within a year after quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease can be reduced to as little as half of that of a lifelong smoker," Dr. Glynn says. "The heart comes back very quickly."

At 15 years, the added risk of heart disease is equal to someone who never smoked, according to the ACS.

Less chance of cancer. Your lung cancer risk depends, in part, on how much and how long you smoke. And the sooner you quit, the greater the benefit, according to the National Institute on Aging.

"Between 10 and 15 years after quitting, the lung cancer risk will be approaching that of a nonsmoker," Dr. Glynn says. "It never really gets back to even, but it gets better."

Your risk for kidney, pancreas, throat and other smoking-related cancers also goes down after you quit.

Improved lung health. Quitting can lower your risk for lung diseases such as emphysema. It may even help if you're already affected by lung disease. For example, though damage from emphysema is permanent, quitting can help keep the disease from getting worse. And for people who have asthma, quitting smoking can help reduce the number of flare-ups from the disease.

Join the crowd

The smartest thing you can do for yourself and your family is to stop smoking as soon as possible, Dr. Glynn says. Old habits are hard to break, but quitting is definitely doable. "Millions and millions of seniors have done it," Dr. Glynn adds.

If you need help, ask your doctor. Stop-smoking aids, including nicotine replacement therapies, can help you succeed.

"Just be prepared for a challenge, and if it doesn't work the first time, get right back up and try it again," Dr. Glynn says.

reviewed 10/21/2019

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