Smoking: An Enemy of Longevity
The harm caused by tobacco has been exhaustively detailed. Yet cigarette smoking has barely declined since 1990. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates 23% of Americans continue to smoke. If you want to live a long, healthy life, make sure you are not among them.
According to the ACS, smoking accounted for approximately 440,000 premature deaths each year between 1995 and 1999. It’s responsible for almost a third of all cancer deaths. Extensive research indicates smoking boosts the risk for more than 10 cancers ranging from lung and bladder cancer to adult acute leukemia. For example, a Journal of the National Cancer Institute study found that people who had smoked for at least 20 years significantly increased their risk of dying from colorectal cancer — men by 32% and women by 41% — compared with people who had never smoked.
Smoking is also a major cause of heart disease and is associated with many other health problems, including osteoporosis, emphysema, stroke, and even the common cold. As many smokers can tell you, smoking makes breathing during exercise a whole lot harder and thus can make activity less enticing. It appears to compromise memory, too.
The news does get better. People who quit smoking can repair some, if not all, of the damage done. The risk of heart disease drops within a few months until, in five years, it matches that of someone who never smoked. And stroke risk drops to equal that of a nonsmoker within two to four years after a smoker quits, according to one study of people ages 34–55. The death rate from colorectal cancer decreases each year after quitting. At any age, quitting progressively cuts your risk of dying from cancer related to smoking, although this drop is most marked in those who quit before age 50. Some research indicates that it takes 15 years for lung cancer risk to abate.
It’s worth noting that en route to these healthy end points, you’re likely to suffer fewer colds — nothing to sneeze at.
Nine Steps Toward a Longer, Healthier Life
Build physical and mental activities into every day.
Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and substitute healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats for unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats.
Take a daily multivitamin and be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Maintain a healthy weight and body shape.
Challenge your mind.
Build a strong social safety net.
Protect your sight, hearing, and general health by following preventive care guidelines.
Discuss with your doctor whether you need any medication — perhaps to control high blood pressure, treat osteoporosis, or lower cholesterol — to help you stay healthy.
STILL WORTH IT TO QUIT?
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