Smoking tobacco is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. In recognition of Heart Month, we are looking at the effects of smoking and sharing tips on how to quit if you are a current smoker.
The chemicals in tobacco damage the heart and blood vessels by causing the build-up of plaque, leading to the narrowing of the arteries – this ultimately leads to a heart attack. Carbon monoxide in the smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood, which forces the heart to work harder to get enough oxygen to the body and brain.
Quitting can be difficult, but there are numerous benefits, regardless of how long or how much you have smoked. Although researchers have found many techniques linked to better success in quitting, it remains an individual process. Below, we recommend 8 tips to help you quit smoking and take control of your heart health.
- Write down your reason. Why do you want to quit? Is it to be around for your loved ones, to improve your health, or to set a good example for your children? Knowing your reason, writing it down, and putting it in a place where you can see it often will help you focus on why you really want to quit when dealing with withdrawal symptoms.
- Use aides as needed. There are many nicotine replacement products (gum and patches) or FDA-approved, non-nicotine cessation medications available to individuals trying to quit. For most people, withdrawal symptoms only last a few days to a couple of weeks. Take quitting one day at a time, and use these products if you feel they will help you achieve a successful recovery.
- Get support. Seeking help does not mean that you are weak; in fact, it is quite the contrary. There are free resources available by phone at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), or online. Your health care providers can also answer any questions you may have, or may be able to recommend local support groups.
- Delay. If you feel like you’re going to give in to your tobacco craving, tell yourself that you must wait 10 more minutes — and then do something to distract yourself for that period. Try going to a public, smoke-free zone. These simple tricks may be enough to derail your tobacco craving.
- Chew on it. Chewing on sugarless gum, or munching on raw carrots, celery, or nuts can help fight cravings. Try to pick something crunchy and satisfying.
- Don’t have ‘just one.’ You might be tempted to have just one cigarette to satisfy a tobacco craving. But don’t fool yourself into believing that you can stop there. Often, having ‘just one’ leads to another, and you may end up using tobacco regularly again.
- Exercise. Physical activity can help distract you from tobacco cravings and reduce their intensity. Even short burst of physical activity, such as running up and down the stairs a few times, can make a tobacco craving go away. If you’re stuck at home or the office, try squats, pushups, running in place, or walking up and down a set of stairs. If physical activity doesn’t interest you, try prayer, needlework, journaling – any hobby or chore that may distract you.
- Relax. Smoking may have been your way to deal with stress. Resisting a tobacco craving can itself be stressful. Take the edge off by practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep-breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, or yoga.
More than half of all adult smokers have quit, and you can, too. Quitting smoking is the single most important step you can take to protect your health and the health of your family. If you have any questions about quitting, please contact your primary physician. There are also free resources available online at Tobaccofreelife.org.
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