As we start planning for our New Year’s resolutions, quitting smoking can be one of the best decisions you can ever make for yourself. This addiction may seem acceptable to many people, but the harm it does, not just to your own health but to the people around you, is serious. There are so many negative effects that smoking has on your health and the longer you smoke the higher your risk of a heart attack, a stroke and even different types of cancer will be. Not to mention the negative effects on your skin, nails, teeth and breath. Experts advise that the sooner you can stop the better for your health. The benefits will start showing within just an hour after you stop smoking, if you stay nicotine free. Smokers don’t usually want to hear about all the consequences of this habit, but knowledge is power, and you can save your own life by making good and knowledgeable choices.
Here are some of the benefits to your health when you stop smoking:
1. You immediately reduce the chance of getting cancer.
‘Tobacco causes over 18 types of cancer and accounts for over 20% of cancer deaths worldwide, and about 85% of lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoking,’ says Lorraine Govender, national advocacy officer at Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). The sooner you stop smoking the less damage is caused to your body, which can reduce the risk of cancer, heart and lung disease, and other health conditions related to smoking.
2. Your mental health improves
Mental health is so important because it influences your health, body and quality of life. Many smokers start smoking due to feeling stressed and looking for an escape or to relieve tension. But a study published in the British Medical Journal found that, when you stop smoking it can actually boost your mental health. It can help reduce depression, anxiety and stress. The oxygen that is available to your brain is increased and will improve your mood and quality of life.
3. It will improve your ability to exercise
High blood pressure can be increased by smoking and ultimately increases your risk of heart disease. Within just one day of not smoking blood pressure drops and your oxygen level increases which will improve your ability to exercise. As your lungs start to heal, breathing will become easier and your capacity to exercise also increases. There is nothing as annoying as panting after you have just climbed a single flight of stairs. You might experience some coughing at first after you quit smoking, but that is just how your lungs get rid of residual nicotine and any other impurities.
4. Your smile will be brighter
‘Most changes in the mouth due to smoking are reversible, including bad breath and yellowed teeth,’ says Dr Abinash Achrekar, assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the University of New Mexico. Once you quit smoking, the yellow stains will fade, and you will lower your risk for gum recession and periodontal disease as well. It is definitely worth quitting if your teeth can stay beautiful.
Let’s be honest, all the information is important, but the practicality is where the question normally lies. Here are a few practical steps to implement when you want to stop smoking:
The best way to get rid of a bad habit is not to focus on not doing it anymore, but to focus on a new habit.
- Write down your main reason for quitting and put it up where you can see it every day. Decide on which day you are going to quit and stick to that day.
- Make sure you have nothing lying around that can remind you of smoking. No lighters, old cigarette boxes, ashtrays etc.
- Avoid the places where you would normally smoke. If you used to have a smoke break outside at 10am with your colleagues, rather make a cup of coffee during that time and don’t go outside in your break. At least until you feel you won’t be tempted to smoke again.
- Drink a lot of water to help flush the nicotine from your body. Eating gum also helps keep your mouth busy.
- Change your routine. If you used to have a cigarette before work, rather go make your coffee earlier or meditate for a few minutes during the time you would normally smoke.
- Get active. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mood. Replacing smoking with exercise will be one of the best things you can do for yourself and your health. The benefits will be so much more worthwhile and will last much longer than the satisfaction of a cigarette.
- Let your family and friends know that you are trying to quit so that they can support you. Breaking an addiction is not the easiest thing in the world and some support and motivation can go a long way.
- Some side effects that may occur after you stop smoking include coughing, dizziness, headaches and hunger. This will go away in about 14 days. Normally the first 3 to 4 days are the worst, but it should get better every day once you have stopped.
- Try to eat small snacks in between your meals, like fruit, yoghurt or other healthy snacks if you experience hunger cravings more often than before you quit. Just because you experience ‘new’ cravings, doesn’t mean you have to indulge and gain weight. Not all ex-smokers gain weight; it depends on how you handle your diet and exercise regime.
- Don’t fall into the trap of ‘I have a crisis, I need a cigarette’ or ‘It’s just one’. All it can take is one cigarette and you would be back on the bandwagon. One cigarette more than likely leads to another. Just don’t do it.
Methods of quitting
Your personality type and how you normally achieve your goals can influence the best method of quitting for you. Some people can just put their minds to it and reach their goal, others need to have steps, while others need to try different methods before they succeed. Trying to quit smoking is simply achieving a goal like any other, and since it is almost the beginning of a new year, why not make this your New Year’s goal.
Alternative methods include therapies like acupuncture, hypnosis, homoeopathy or nicotine replacement products. There are quite a few on the market, like sprays, pills, patches or chewing gum. Ask your medical doctor for advice.
It has been proven that the “cold turkey” method has the best success rate of all methods. It is perhaps one of the most difficult methods but by far the most successful.
For some people ‘cold turkey’ is just too difficult and they might prefer a gradual process of quitting. This makes it easier because there is less pressure to ‘ignore’ the craving. If you used to smoke 12 cigarettes a day, by cutting down to 8 a day, you are already making progress. Often you might smoke a second one in your 15-minute break just because someone else has lit another cigarette. You probably didn’t really want another one but did not exercise self-control. So, start by reducing the number of cigarettes you have in a day and practice self-control. That is the only way this will become easier.
Many people don’t succeed on their first attempt to quit smoking, but don’t be too hard on yourself. The key is to believe in the reason WHY you want to quit. If that reason is personally significant to you, it will be much easier to quit the things that don’t enhance your quality of life. Quitting smoking is a difficult habit to kick but is very rewarding.
Delay giving in to the craving of wanting to smoke. The urge to have a cigarette often comes and goes within 3 to 5 minutes. Just hold off on giving in for a few minutes by distracting yourself. This way you teach your brain that you can go without nicotine. This will get easier as you progress in your journey.
Take deep breaths. Breathing is essential to remain calm and in control. Picture your lungs being filled with fresh air. Meditate on feeling healthy and happy with clean lungs for a few minutes.
Everything in life is a choice and a healthier version of you can bring on an amazing 2020. Make the choice to put yourself and your health first. If you need any assistance to quit smoking you can call the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) QUIT Line: 011 720 3145 or email: email@example.com – download the NCAS Quit Guideline PDF: English | Afrikaans | Zulu (with permission by NCAS) or join CANSA’s free online eKickButt programme. They can assist you with support and guidance in quitting today.