It is well known that smoking damages the lungs and overall health. But is it possible to regain lung health once you quit smoking?
According to the American Lung Association, your body starts the slow process of repairing the damage caused by smoking as early as 20 minutes after your last cigarette. It takes one to nine months for coughing and shortness of breath to decrease. It takes as many as 15 years to restore the body such that the risk of coronary heart diseases is the same as that of a non-smoker.
A review of articles indicated that “smoking cessation improves respiratory symptoms and bronchial hyperresponsiveness, and prevents accelerated decline in lung function, in all smokers, with or without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” But quitting smoking is hard! Estimates of relapse vary between 60 percent and 90 percent, with one study putting it between 54 percent and 67 percent in the first year of abstinence.
If you’ve recently decided to quit smoking, focusing on healing your lungs can be a way to keep the momentum going. Here are a few ways to help you stay on track and maximize the benefits for your lung health.
Physical activity – be it swimming, dancing, hiking, biking, or simply walking around the block – has benefits to your whole body and, in particular, your lungs.
Good exercise has also been known to release endorphins: hormones associated with improved mood and reduced stress. The endorphins from physical activity can be critical when you’re coping with nicotine withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and trouble sleeping.
It’s always a good idea to consult a medical professional before starting a new exercise plan. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, breathing exercises or simple yoga poses can be a great place to start.
Grab a glass of water
When you feel the urge to smoke, one simple tactic is to take a breath, head to the sink, pour yourself a glass of ice water, and drink it slowly. As an added benefit, a good hydration habit has benefits for your lung health!
According to the American Lung Association, smoking has been known to thicken mucus and increase mucus production in the lungs. On the other hand, drinking sufficient water helps keep the mucus in the lungs thinner, making it easier to expel if you need to cough.
Controlled coughing can loosen mucus and help it move through the airways. If you’re finding it hard to keep coughs under control, talk to your doctor about other methods to help clear out your airways.
Treat yourself to a good meal
Hunger (and potentially even hanger) can be another symptom of nicotine withdrawal. This is a great time to take up cooking as a hobby or repurpose your cigarette budget for a weekly dinner date.
If food is your love language, give some love to your lungs by incorporating lung-healthy, anti-inflammatory ingredients such as berries, tomatoes, melons, olives, kale, and spinach.
Let laughter be your best medicine
The most obvious health benefit of laughter is stress reduction, but did you know that there are also benefits to your cardiovascular, pulmonary, and respiratory systems? Making time for your favorite sitcom or simply laughing with a good friend can actually be good for your lung health!
According to the American Lung Association, your diaphragm, chest, and abdominal muscles tighten with each laugh, forcing stale air out and allowing fresh air deeper into your lungs.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it may be difficult to avoid people, places, or situations that trigger the urge to smoke. Draw up a cheat sheet of tactics to remove yourself from situations where you’re likely to encounter smoke or be tempted to pick the habit back up.