It's a question smokers , and former smokers, have often asked: How long will it take to undo the damage of years, or decades, or lighting up? A new study released ahead of the American Heart Association's annual conference indicates it's longer than previously thought.
While the body starts the recovery process within 20 minutes of the last cigarette, the new research shows it takes up to 16 years for cardiovascular disease risk of former smokers to return to the levels of someone who never smoked.
The study, to be presented this month, looked at nearly 8,700 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, and the risk of cardiovascular disease among current, former and non-smokers. It found that among the smokers, more than 70 percent of cardiovascular disease events (heart attack, stroke or congestive heart failure) occurred in heavy smokers — those who smoked a pack a day for 20 or more years.
The good news? “There’s an immediate benefit of quitting, and within five years, former smokers reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by 38 percent,” says Meredith Duncan, a biostatistician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and lead author of the study. “We cannot underscore enough the benefits of quitting,” she says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for those over 65.
If you are a former smoker, even if it’s been many, many years since your last cigarette, cigar or pipe you might still be at higher risk for those cardiovascular problems. “It’s important for former smokers to continue to talk to their doctors about their cardiovascular risk and how to manage or reduce that risk,” Duncan says.
And it’s more important than ever for current smokers to quit, difficult as that is. Here are some tips to help you succeed: