Did you know that the single best thing you can do for your health if you smoke is to quit? March 14 is No Smoking Day, and the ideal time to give up the cigarettes for good. Whether you’ve tried previously without success or have only recently thought about quitting, you can do it - with a little forward planning and the right support in place!

According to the British Heart Foundation, smoking releases more than 4,000 chemicals into the bloodstream and body tissues, putting you at increased risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. 22,000 smokers in the UK die each year from cardiovascular disease whilst, on average, a smoker dies 10 years earlier than someone who doesn’t smoke and is twice as likely to have a heart attack.

But the good news is that even if you’ve smoked for many years, the benefits to your health will start almost as soon as you quit! Here’s how:

  • After just 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal
  • Within 24 hours the lungs start to clear
  • By 72 hours after you stop, your sense of taste and smell will start to return
  • Two to 12 weeks after you quit, it becomes easier to exercise and your breathing improves
  • After a year, the risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker
  • 10-15 years after stopping smoking, your risk of lung cancer is halved

Tips to help stop smoking

There are a number of ways to stop smoking, including quitting altogether, cutting down on the number of cigarettes you smoke and using nicotine replacement products such as patches and gum. The nicotine vapour in e-cigarettes doesn’t contain the tar, chemicals or carbon monoxide of tobacco, but the long term effects of vaping are not yet known.

Set a date (such as No Smoking Day!) to stop and stick to it. This time of year can actually be better for successfully keeping resolutions than new year; we’re not in the middle of the winter blues and the onset of spring can put us in a more positive frame of mind to achieve our goals.

Tell family and close friends of your plans and ask for their support. This might be a good time to avoid people you think won’t be helpful or will try to entice you to smoke! Think of what you will do with the money you save, such as putting it towards a holiday or watching it mount up in a jar.

There are NHS no smoking support schemes in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You can call the helplines on the numbers listed at the bottom of the article or visit the relevant website and input your postcode to find the scheme closest to you.

According to the NHS, meat makes cigarettes taste better, whilst fruit, vegetables and cheese make them taste terrible. Fizzy drinks, alcohol, tea and coffee also help smokers enjoy cigarettes, so it might help to avoid certain drinks and foods for a while.

A craving lasts for five minutes, so be prepared with a list of five-minute tasks to fill the time until the craving subsides. One option is going for a short walk; in fact, exercise is a great replacement for smoking. We’re conditioned to believe that smoking reduces stress, but being active is a far more effective way of reducing stress and improving mood, and will be much better for you in the long run!

Giving up smoking is just one of the ways you can improve your physical and mental health. You can read more of our articles on how to boost fitness and wellbeing on our website, as well as finding out more about the right type of health insurance to protect you and your family.

NHS no smoking helplines

England: 0300 123 1044

Wales: 0800 085 2219

Scotland: 0800 84 84 84

Northern Ireland: 0808 812 8008