What happens to your body when you quit smoking?

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When was the last time someone asked you when you were going to quit and you told them something along the lines of, “when I’m ready”, or “now’s just not the right time”.

Why did you say that?

What isn’t NOW the right time?

I think the answer has a lot to do with what happens to your body when you quit smoking. You know things are going to change. You know you’ll start feeling some pretty intense cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms.

Do you really know what you’re going to experience when you quit smoking (the positive as well as the negative)?

Here’s a timeline to help you understand what is really going to happen to you if you decide that you’re never going to smoke another cigarette again.

30 minutes: your heart rate has dropped

Nicotine is a stimulant. It increases your heart rate and temperature. It’s a high… and if you smoke cigarettes you’re also taking into your body and incredible array of deadly, toxic chemicals that act as poisons in your body. The effect of these poisons also acts to put stress on your heart and increase your heart rate. Thankfully, nicotine starts leaving your body very quickly and the effects of the poisons from cigarettes isn’t going to keep you feeling sick for very long (in the short term at least).

2 hours: cravings have started

By now your heart rate and blood pressure will be almost back to normal and your circulation is now getting right into your peripheral limbs (your fingertips and toes are warming up)… but the withdrawal symptoms are also starting to kick in. Expect to start feeling some cravings, anxiety, tension, frustration, irritability and hunger pangs.

12 hours: carbon monoxide levels normal

At high levels carbon monoxide is deadly poison. It enters your body in cigarette smoke and bonds to your blood cells. Here it starts starving your body of oxygen. It takes about 12 hours for the carbon monoxide from just one cigarette to leave your body so that your blood can start breathing again.

24 hours: a heart attack is less likely

Smokers have a 70% higher risk of heart attack than non-smokers. 70%!! Just 24 hours after your last cigarette, however, that risk is falling!

48 hours: smelling and tasting again

Smoking attacks the nerve endings in your mouth and nose and consequently deadens your sense of taste and smell. 48 hours after you stop smoking those nerve endings are coming back to life and so are your senses.

3 days: nicotine is gone

It only takes 3 days for all the nicotine in your body to leave. This is actually great news because it means your brain can start undoing the addiction. The bad news is that this is when the physical withdrawal symptoms of quitting also kick into high gear. Expect some headaches, cravings, anxiety, sleeplessness etc.

2 weeks: withdrawals are almost over

The most acute physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms associated with nicotine cessation don’t usually last more than two weeks. By now you’re feeling calmer, your head is clear, you’re sleeping normally and those intense hunger pangs are going away. Even the heaviest of smokers usually don’t continue to feel withdrawal symptoms after 4 weeks, so if you’re in that category, you’re half way there.

1 month: your lung function is improving

Depending on how long you’ve been smoking, you may not ever know what it feels like not to feel out of breath when you exercise (or even engage in strenuous everyday activities). You’re about to start finding out now because your circulation is improving and your lung function is recovering. Your heart attack risk is also starting to fall faster and faster. Things will keep getting better and better for you each month now, until…

12 months: 100% improvement

The effects of smoking are very long lasting. Although it’s been a year since you quit smoking, you’re still not completely out of the grasp of all the damage you’ve done, but your risk of heart attack is now half that of everyone still smoking.

5 years: risk of stroke back to normal

While you were smoking the carbon monoxide in your system was shrinking your blood vessels and increasing your chances of having a stroke. 5-15 years after you quit your risk of stroke has returned to normal. This is a significant milestone!

10 years: risk of cancer improving

Smokers suffer from 90% of all lung cancer deaths. As a decade long non-smoker now, your risk of dying from lung cancer is half what it was. Your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas is also decreasing!

15 years: back to normal

It’s taken quite a while, but after 15 years your risk of heart disease is back to the same level as a non-smoker. Your risk of heart attack, coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, angina, infections of the heart, or conditions that affect your heart’s beating rhythms are also not affected by your past smoking anymore.

Back to NOW…

There is no better time to quit smoking than right now. You are addicted to nicotine and that addiction isn’t going away. It will never let you feel like now is the right time. It’s just not going to happen… not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. Addiction doesn’t work that way (click here to read more about the nature of addiction…)

Now you know the timeline behind what happens to your body when you quit smoking. Hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades – the benefits of quitting just keep getting better.

I know it seems like a long time now (read my story…) but it will get better.


Quit now (right now!) and you’ve got about 3 days before all the nicotine gets out of your system and you start getting hammered with the withdrawals, but that is highly unlikely to last for more than 2 weeks and by that stage you’ll really be able to handle it.

The secret is that you have to tackle your addiction as well as the withdrawal symptoms. It’s not the withdrawal symptoms that are stopping you from quitting smoking right now (you’re not feeling them yet, that’s why). The reason you won’t quit NOW is that you’re addicted and you want to keep smoking – even though you know it’s killing you.

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