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Quit Smoking, Help Heart: Even if You Gain Weight

Long-term study shows cardiac-health benefits in kicking the habit despite added pounds

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"So the message is, yes, you can expect to gain weight in the first few years after quitting," Meigs said. "But you'll still cut your risk of cardiovascular disease in half."

The researchers also zeroed in on study participants with diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. They found that people who'd kicked the smoking habit had a similar risk reduction as former smokers without diabetes. But the finding was not statistically significant, which means it could be due to chance.

Meigs stressed, however, that the finding does not mean people with diabetes don't benefit from quitting. He blamed statistics: There simply were not enough people in the study who were smokers, had diabetes and suffered a heart problem to be able to get a statistically reliable finding.

And Meigs pointed out, for a smoker with a major health condition such as diabetes, it would be even more important to quit smoking.

But even if weight gain will not negate the heart benefits of quitting, many smokers may want to avoid it anyway. "And you can do some things to minimize it," Fiore said.

One would be to start exercising. "Build some more physical activity into your daily routine," Fiore said. As a bonus, he added, research suggests that exercise can help take the edge off nicotine cravings.

Watching your diet is key, Fiore said, because smokers often turn to sugary, fatty foods during quit attempts. There is also evidence that nicotine gums and lozenges can help hold off weight gain. It's not clear why, but it may be because of the effects of nicotine on metabolism, Fiore noted.

Fiore has received research support from Pfizer to study its smoking cessation drug Chantix. Some of Meigs' co-researchers on the work have ties to companies that make or are developing smoking cessation products. The study itself was funded by U.S. and Swiss government grants. The study was led by Dr. Carole Clair, of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

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