What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking?

May 16, 2023


If you're a smoker, you've probably heard about the dangers of smoking and the numerous benefits of quitting. But do you know what actually happens to your body when you quit smoking? In this blog, we will delve deeper into the remarkable changes that occur in your body when you stop smoking. Understanding these changes can be a powerful motivator for those who are considering quitting and provide encouragement for those who have already taken this significant step toward a healthier life.

We will explore the physiological, respiratory, mental, sleep, diet, endurance, and sexual impacts of stopping smoking, examining both the short-term and long-term effects. By presenting the research-backed evidence, our aim is to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the numerous benefits associated with quitting smoking. This knowledge can serve as a catalyst for change, inspiring you or your loved ones to make a positive, life-altering decision for better health and well-being.


Physiological Impacts

Your body starts to heal and repair itself almost immediately after you quit smoking. Within just 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure start to return to normal levels (1). After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop, allowing for better oxygen transportation throughout your body (1). As your body continues to heal, your circulation improves, and your risk of heart attack and stroke decreases (1).

Over the course of several months, your body's overall inflammation decreases (2). This can lead to a lower risk of developing various chronic diseases, including cancer and diabetes (2). Additionally, quitting smoking can help improve your immune system, making it easier for your body to fight off infections (3).

Long-term benefits of quitting smoking include a reduced risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and various types of cancer, such as lung, throat, and mouth cancer (1). As your body continues to heal, your overall health and life expectancy improves, increasing your chances of living a longer, healthier life (1).


Respiratory Impacts

Quitting smoking can have a significant positive impact on your respiratory system. Within a few days of quitting, your lung function starts to improve, and your lungs begin to clear out the buildup of tar and mucus (4). This leads to a decrease in coughing, shortness of breath, and respiratory infections (4). Over time, your risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer also decreases (1).

As your respiratory health improves, you may notice that it becomes easier to breathe and participate in physical activities (1). This is because your lungs are functioning more efficiently, and your body is better able to utilize oxygen (1). The improvement in lung function can also reduce your risk of experiencing asthma attacks or other breathing difficulties (1).

In the long term, quitting smoking can help you maintain healthy lung function as you age (1). This can lead to a better quality of life and a reduced risk of developing age-related respiratory issues, such as COPD or pneumonia (1). Maintaining healthy lung function is essential for overall health and well-being (1).


Mental Impacts

Quitting smoking can also have positive effects on your mental health. While nicotine withdrawal can initially cause irritability, anxiety, and depression, these symptoms usually subside within a few weeks (2). In the long run, quitting smoking can lead to improved mood, lower stress levels, and a reduced risk of developing anxiety and depression (5).

One reason for the improvement in mental health after quitting smoking is the reduction in nicotine-induced stress (5). Nicotine is a stimulant, and its withdrawal symptoms can cause increased stress and anxiety (5). As your body adjusts to the absence of nicotine, your overall stress levels may decrease, leading to better mental health (5).

Additionally, quitting smoking can lead to increased self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment (5). Successfully overcoming nicotine addiction can provide a sense of empowerment and control over one's life, which can lead to improved mental health and overall well-being (5).


Sleep Impacts

Smokers often experience poor sleep quality due to nicotine's stimulant effects and withdrawal symptoms during sleep (6). When you quit smoking, your sleep quality is likely to improve as your body adjusts to the absence of nicotine (6). This can lead to better overall sleep, increased alertness during the day, and a reduced risk of developing sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea (7).

As your sleep quality improves, you may find that you feel more rested and refreshed in the morning (8). This can have a positive impact on your overall mood, energy levels, and cognitive function (9). Improved sleep can also contribute to better mental and physical health, as adequate sleep is crucial for the proper functioning of the immune system, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation (10).

In the long term, quitting smoking can help you maintain healthy sleep patterns as you age (11). This can lead to a better quality of life and a reduced risk of developing age-related sleep issues, such as insomnia or sleep apnea (12). Maintaining healthy sleep patterns is essential for overall health and well-being (13)


Diet Impacts

Quitting smoking can have a positive influence on your diet and overall nutrition. When you quit smoking, your sense of taste and smell gradually improves (14). This can make food more enjoyable, encouraging you to eat a more varied and healthier diet (15). Additionally, as your appetite returns to normal, you may find it easier to maintain a balanced diet and manage your weight (16).

It's important to be mindful of potential weight gain after quitting smoking, as nicotine can suppress appetite and increase metabolism (17). To minimize the risk of weight gain, focus on eating nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (18). Regular physical activity can also help maintain a healthy weight and promote overall well-being (19).

Over the long term, maintaining a healthy diet and weight can contribute to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers (20). Eating well and staying active are essential components of a healthy lifestyle, which can further enhance the benefits of quitting smoking (21).


Endurance Impacts

Quitting smoking can lead to significant improvements in your physical endurance and overall fitness levels. As your lung function improves and your body becomes more efficient at utilizing oxygen, you may find it easier to participate in physical activities (22). This can help you build and maintain muscle strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness (23).

Increased physical endurance can also contribute to improved mental health and well-being (24). Engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance cognitive function (25). Additionally, exercise can help manage weight gain after quitting smoking, further promoting overall health (26).

In the long term, maintaining an active lifestyle can help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers (27). Combining the benefits of quitting smoking with regular physical activity can lead to a longer, healthier, and more enjoyable life (28).


Sexual Impacts

Quitting smoking can have positive effects on your sexual health and performance. Smoking can contribute to erectile dysfunction in men and reduced sexual satisfaction in women, as it impairs blood flow and damages blood vessels (29). When you quit smoking, your circulation improves, which can enhance sexual function and satisfaction (30).

In addition to improving sexual function, quitting smoking can also improve fertility in both men and women (31). Smoking has been linked to decreased sperm quality in men and various reproductive issues in women, such as problems with the fallopian tubes and the cervix (32). By quitting smoking, you can increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy (33).

Over the long term, quitting smoking can contribute to a better quality of life and improved sexual relationships. Improved sexual health can lead to increased intimacy, emotional well-being, and overall satisfaction in relationships (34). The benefits of quitting smoking extend beyond physical health, impacting many aspects of personal and emotional well-being (35).


Concluding Thoughts

In summary, the decision to quit smoking has profound and far-reaching benefits on your overall health and well-being. From improved lung function and circulation to enhanced mental health and sexual performance, the positive effects of quitting smoking touch nearly every aspect of your life. By understanding these benefits and utilizing the various resources and support available, you can take control of your health and embark on a journey toward a smoke-free, healthier future.

It's essential to remember that quitting smoking is a process that requires commitment, patience, and support from others. Although it can be challenging, the numerous health benefits and improvements in quality of life make the effort worthwhile. With determination and the right resources, you can successfully quit smoking and experience the many advantages of a smoke-free life.


References for further reading

  1. American Cancer Society. (2019). Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/benefits-of-quitting-smoking-over-time.html
  2. Bhatnagar, A. (2006). Environmental Cardiology: Studying Mechanisms of Environment-Heart Interactions. Circulation Research, 999(7), 692–705.
  3. Shiels, M. S., Katki, H. A., Freedman, N. D., Purdue, M. P., Wentzensen, N., Trabert, B., ... & Engels, E. A. (2014). Cigarette smoking and variations in systemic immune and inflammation markers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 106(11), dju294.
  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). How Smoking Affects the Heart and Blood Vessels? Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart/smoking
  5. Taylor, G., McNeill, A., Girling, A., Farley, A., Lindson-Hawley, N., & Aveyard, P. (2014). Change in mental health after smoking cessation: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 348, g1151.
  6. Zhang, L., Samet, J., Caffo, B., & Punjabi, N. M. (2006). Cigarette smoking and nocturnal sleep architecture. American Journal of Epidemiology, 164(6), 529-537.
  7. Ezzie ME, Parsons JP, Mastronarde JG. Sleep and Obstructive Lung Diseases. Sleep Med Clin. 2008 Dec;3(4):505-515.
  8. Cohrs, S., Rodenbeck, A., Riemann, D., Szagun, B., Jaehne, A., Brinkmeyer, J., ... & Wetter, T. C. (2014). Impaired sleep quality and sleep duration in smokers—results from the German Multicenter Study on Nicotine Dependence. Addiction Biology, 19(3), 486–96.
  9. Killgore, W. D. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. Progress in brain research, 185, 105-129.
  10. Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Born, J. (2012). Sleep and immune function. Pflügers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology, 463(1), 121-137.
  11. Irwin, M. R. (2015). Why sleep is important for health: a psychoneuroimmunology perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 66, 143-172.
  12. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Aging and Sleep. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/aging-and-sleep
  13. Buysse, D. J. (2014). Sleep health: can we define it? Does it matter? Sleep, 37(1), 9-17.
  14. Chéruel F, Jarlier M, Sancho-Garnier H. Effect of cigarette smoke on gustatory sensitivity, evaluation of the deficit and of the recovery time-course after smoking cessation. Tob Induc Dis. 2017 Feb 28;15:15.
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  17. Chiolero, A., Faeh, D., Paccaud, F., & Cornuz, J. (2008). Consequences of smoking for body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin resistance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(4), 801-809.
  18. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. Retrieved from https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/ 
  19. American Heart Association. (2018). Physical Activity Improves Quality of Life. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults 
  20. World Health Organization. (2018). Healthy Diet. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet 
  21. Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174(6), 801-809.
  22. O'Donovan, G., Blazevich, A. J., Boreham, C., Cooper, A. R., Crank, H., Ekelund, U., ... & Mutrie, N. (2010). The ABC of Physical Activity for Health: a consensus statement from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Journal of Sports Sciences, 28(6), 573-591.
  23. American Heart Association. (2016).What's the Link Between Physical Activity and Health?. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiac-rehab/getting-physically-active/whats-the-link-between-physical-activity-and-health
  24. Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18(2), 189-193.
  25. Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48-56.
  26. Swift, D. L., Johannsen, N. M., Lavie, C. J., Earnest, C. P., & Church, T. S. (2014). The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenance. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 56(4), 441-447.
  27. Reiner, M., Niermann, C., Jekauc, D., & Woll, A. (2013). Long-term health benefits of physical activity–a systematic review of longitudinal studies. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 813.
  28. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. Retrieved from https://health.gov/our-work/physical-activity/current-guidelines 
  29. Pourmand, G., Alidaee, M. R., Rasuli, S., Maleki, A., & Mehrsai, A. (2004). Do cigarette smokers with erectile dysfunction benefit from stopping?: a prospective study. BJU International, 94(9), 1310-1313.
  30. Allen MS, Walter EE. Health-Related Lifestyle Factors and Sexual Dysfunction: A Meta-Analysis of Population-Based Research. J Sex Med. 2018 Apr;15(4):458-475.
  31. Sharma, R., Harlev, A., Agarwal, A., & Esteves, S. C. (2016). Cigarette smoking and semen quality: a new meta-analysis examining the effect of the 2010 World Health Organization Laboratory methods for the examination of human semen. European Urology, 70(4), 635-645.
  32. Zenzes, M. T. (2000). Smoking and reproduction: gene damage to human gametes and embryos. Human Reproduction Update, 6(2), 122-131.
  33. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Smoking, Pregnancy, and Babies. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/pregnancy.html 
  34. Derby, C. A., Mohr, B. A., Goldstein, I., Feldman, H. A., Johannes, C. B., & McKinlay, J. B. (2000). Modifiable risk factors and erectile dysfunction: can lifestyle changes modify risk? Urology, 56(2), 302-306.
  35. Lawrence D, Mitrou F, Zubrick SR. Smoking and mental illness: results from population surveys in Australia and the United States. BMC Public Health. 2009 Aug 7;9:285.

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