Quitting smoking doesn’t just stop the damage to your noggin—it can also reverse it.
In addition to increasing your risk of lung cancer, emphysema, and canyon-deep wrinkles, smoking cigarettes also clouds your brain. People who smoke perform worse on cognitive tests than non-smokers, according to a new study published in the journal Age and Ageing.
Researchers from King’s College London analyzed data on the health and lifestyle habits of more than 8,000 adults over the age of 50. The subjects then participated in cognitive performance tests, such as memorizing new words and naming as many animals as they could in a minute. They repeated the tests during 4- and 8-year follow-ups. Current smokers scored the lowest on tests of memory, learning, and reasoning skills.
While the exact reason is unknown, smoking increases the risk of vascular disease, brain lesions, and lung injuries, all of which have been linked to cognitive impairment, according to Alex Dregan, Ph.D, study researcher and lecturer in Translational Epidemiology and Public Health at King’s College London. (Learn about additional harmful effects of smoking, here.)
Here’s the good news: Quitting smoking doesn’t just stop the damage to your noggin—it can also reverse it. “Ex-smokers do not show poorer cognitive performance compared to never-smokers,” Dregan says. “Thus, it is never too late to quit smoking.”
Tried before? You’re not alone. While half of smokers try to shake the habit each year, only 6.2% succeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately, these tips can more than triple your chances of quitting the cancer sticks for good. Here, five ways to stop smoking:
Mark Your Calendar
Choose a quit date two to four weeks out and write it down, suggests Andrea King, Ph.D., clinic director of The University of Chicago Medicine’s Tobacco Cessation Program. By giving your smoking a cut-off date, you decrease your chances of putting it off “just one more day.” Just be sure to choose your date wisely: Since major life changes can be triggering to light up again, throwing out your pack on the day of a big work presentation might not be the best course of action, she says.
Embrace Modern Medicine
Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs near you, as well as medications that could help you fight the addiction. Withdrawal symptoms—such as tingling, sweating, depression, and even cold symptoms as the lungs clear—can be managed with medication to increase your chances of success, according to King. When you set your quit date, keep in mind that some drugs including CHANTIX and Zyban are directed for use a week before you stop smoking.
Don’t Be an Island
Forget “fight or flight”—women have what UCLA researchers call a “tend and befriend” response to stress, due to mounting levels of oxytocin (aka the cuddle hormone). So to effectively deal with a stressful situation like kicking an addiction, women need support, King says. Talk to your friends about how you are doing and how they can best encourage you.
Keep a “Wrap” Sheet
Wrap and tape a piece of paper around your pack of cigarettes. Every time you light up, write down the time, place, what kind of mood you are in, and how important you feel smoking is at that moment. Then, once you’re done, rate how good the cigarette was from 1-10, King advises. By monitoring your smoking for a week or two, you can identify your triggers. What’s more, you can start to cut back on your habit by eliminating each day’s so-so smokes.
Rev Your Metabolism
The average woman gains about 8 pounds when she stops smoking, according to King. “It can be a huge deterrent and causes many women to give up on quit attempts,” she says. As a stimulant, nicotine can increase your metabolic burn by up to 200 calories a day, according to a 2010 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism. Stop smoking, and you start burning calories more slowly. Luckily, plenty of healthy habits like strength training, eating breakfast, and staying hydrated can boost your metabolism. Take up these habits as a way to feel more in control of your progress.
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