The benefits of quitting smoking and 5 natural ways to kick the habit
It's tough, but not impossible to quit smoking. Here's how to put your cigarette-puffing habit behind you.
Fri, Jan 03, 2014 at 02:18 PM
At this point, we are all aware of the dangers of cigarette smoking and how beneficial it is to health to quit smoking. Despite all the information currently available about the health effects of smoking, about 20 percent of us still light up daily (about 22 percent of men and 17 percent of women), according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says "Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for more than 440,000 deaths, or one of every five deaths, in the United States each year." Why are so many people still smoking? Because it's a real challenge to quit. But it is possible, and knowledge is power.
A new year, a fresh month, or even the beginning of a week (Mondays are a great time to quit) are all popular times to quit smoking. On average, smokers try to quit eight times before they succeed, but the good news is that the hardest of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms peak two to three days after you quit; if you can last for a full week, you are 10 times more likely to be able to stay off the cigs for good.
Be prepared: Quitting smoking will take some energy and you might not be at your very best for a few days (compared to living 10 fewer years though — which is the average amount of time smoking takes from your life — and the fact that smokers get more colds and flu, by quitting, you'll be saving yourself time overall). Accept that you are going to be a bit uncomfortable: You might experience greater hunger than usual; you might be grumpy or feel depressed; you may be dogged by insomnia; you'll probably feel restless and have trouble focusing. But just keep in mind that these are temporary effects and they will disappear after a few days — though you may have those urges to smoke for the rest of your life. And remember, if you have been a regular smoker and are addicted to cigarettes, you won't be able to just smoke occasionally like some people can; once you have quit, that's it for your smoking life.
Natural ways to quit smoking
There are plenty of quit-smoking aids; from Chantix and other pharmaceuticals to nicotine gums, lozenges and nasal sprays: All of the previous have a statistically significant impact on smoking cessation (those people who use them tend to have higher rates of staying nonsmokers), but there are non-pharmaceutical methods too. So whether you want to quit smoking without using drugs, or if you want to supplement your plan to quit with some effective natural methods, the list below could be helpful: Remember, you need as as many tools in your arsenal as you can get.
Exercise is one of the best ways to address short-term nicotine cravings. If you are feeling super-cravey, stand up and move around and go outside ASAP. Just five minutes of moderate-intensity activity (traverse a few flights of stairs, walk briskly around the block, do some yoga moves, or dance around to some silly songs) has been proven to reduce cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms too. If you can, taking 45 minutes a day to really get your heart rate up and your body moving will not only naturally raise your feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine, but will help you recognize the physical benefits of quitting smoking, like increased lung function (which means it will be easier to breathe when you are working out).
Mindfulness and meditation can be useful as part of a quitting smoking program; not because they reduce the urge to smoke, but because practicing mindfulness can change how you respond to those urges when they come up. One way to work mindfulness into a stop smoking routine would be to take time to breathe and clear the mind (try these basic instructions) every time you want to light up. Instead of fighting the urge, be with it, examine it, question it, then let your mind get empty. It's also a really nice way to take a break without going outside to puff. You can even try it in combination with the exercise idea; a walking meditation can be a powerful tool.
Herbal assistance, like St. John's Wort (check with your doctor before you take this one as it interacts with a number of medications) or lobelia to help relax you through the possibly tense time when you first quit can be helpful. Lobelia has the added bonus of making cigarettes taste bad for some people. See more about herbal treatments here.
Acupuncture has similar rates of effectiveness as nicotine replacements; it helps significantly in the beginning stages of quitting smoking, but after a year, like nicotine patches and pills, it has no better effect than a placebo. For some people, it is really effective to help one get through the first weeks without cigarettes, and that might be all you need.
Go on vacation or otherwise change up your schedule and habits. If you are out of your typical surroundings and in a new space, it might be easier to get through those challenging first few days. Planning a busy few days in a foreign country can be just the thing to distract you from smoking at first, though you will still have to deal with some of the later discomfort.
There has been a lot of talk about e-cigarettes recently and they have been touted by some as a smoking cessation aid, but they are so new that it's hard to tell exactly what their health impact is (though there have been a few negative reports already and we know that e-cigarettes definitely affect lung function). How effective they are at helping people quit regular cigarettes — the FDA doesn't approve them for this use yet — is mostly unknown, though an early study says that they're about as effective as nicotine patches.
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