After You Quit Smoking

So you’ve quit smoking. Congratulations! You’ve overcome one of life’s biggest challenges: Smoking elevates your risk of lung disorders, cancer, heart disease and other health conditions—and it's one of the most difficult addictions to kick.

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But quitting is just the beginning. There are some essential steps you can take after you quit smoking to help repair the damage that cigarette smoking may have inflicted on your heart and lungs, avoid gaining weight and make sure you don't ever light up again.

According to Jonathan Whiteson, M.D., cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation expert at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, giving yourself a pat on the back should be your first step after you quit smoking. "Recognize what a wonderful thing you've done," says Dr. Whiteson. "That helps keep the process at a conscious level."

After you quit smoking, replace a bad habit with a good one Dr. Whiteson also suggests that you reward yourself with aerobic exercise. "Many people don't exercise while they are smoking, as if the two were mutually exclusive," he notes. If your doctor agrees, activities such as biking, stair climbing or simply walking can help strengthen your lungs and heart after you quit smoking. Dr. Whiteson suggests about 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day.

Eat well One of the most discouraging side effects of quitting smoking can be weight gain—the average quitter puts on between four to 10 pounds. Dr. Whiteson says you can prevent packing on pounds after you quit smoking by adopting a heart-and-lung-healthy diet that's focused on eating

  • whole grains (such as whole wheat, barley and oatmeal),
  • lean protein (fish, skinless poultry and soy products),
  • and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Deal with COPD The damage that smoking did to your lungs may have resulted in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis that restricts airways and damages the lungs. Symptoms can include wheezing, a chronic phlegm-producing cough and shortness of breath. If you've experienced these symptoms after you quit smoking, Dr. Whiteson recommends you see a pulmonologist for an exam that may include a CAT scan and cancer screening.

A pulmonary rehab program can help you learn stress management, relaxation and breathing techniques after you quit smoking.

Conquer Your Cravings

These steps will help you avoid subconscious smoking triggers

  • Take a different path to and from work Adopt a new daily routine that you don't associate with your old habit.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine Many former smokers associate booze and coffee with the cigarette habit. Go for water or skim milk after you quit smoking.
  • Ask friends to stop smoking around you It'll help you avoid temptation and dangerous secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid locations you associate with smoking It may be a bar, restaurant or public place like a park. Insome cases quitters have even moved to a new home, which Dr. Whiteson notes should not be ruled out if necessary.
  • Know your difficult days Major triggers can include birthdays, anniversaries and even a funerals. Resolve to get through the day smoke-free.

By Frank Riolo

Adapted from Remedy digital magazine, part of Remedy Health Media (2011)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 15 Sep 2011

Last Modified: 19 Feb 2015