Quit Smoking for Your Heart’s Sake

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on April 07, 2023
3 min read

You probably already know that smoking is bad for your lungs. Did you know it also makes you more likely to get high blood pressure and heart disease?

The nicotine in cigarette smoke is a big part of the problem. It raises your blood pressure and heart rate, narrows your arteries and hardens their walls, and makes your blood more likely to clot. It stresses your heart and sets you up for a heart attack or stroke.

If you smoke, make quitting your No. 1 health priority. It could save your life. Not a smoker? Remember that secondhand smoke still puts you at risk.

You need to prepare and get support. Use these tips to get started:

  1. Pick a date to stop smoking. Tell your doctor about it.
  2. Write down why you want to quit. Read the list daily.
  3. Also note what triggers you to smoke. Only in certain situations? With particular people? When you feel specific emotions?
  4. Make a list of activities you can do instead of smoking. Save it on your phone, so it’s handy.
  5. Ask your doctor about nicotine gum or patches. Some people find them helpful.
  6. Join a quit-smoking group or program. Call your local chapter of the American Lung Association.
  7. Don't carry a lighter, matches, or cigarettes. Keep all of these reminders out of sight.
  8. Do you live with someone who smokes? Ask them not to smoke around you.
  9. Don't focus on what you have given up. Think about how much healthier you will be.
  10. When you get the urge for a cigarette, take a deep breath. Hold it for a moment, and then slowly exhale. Do this a few times, until the urge to smoke passes.
  11. Keep your hands busy. Doodle, play with a pencil or straw, drum on your car’s dashboard, or scroll through your phone.
  12. Take a walk or read a book instead of a cigarette break.
  13. When you can, avoid places, people, and situations that make you want to smoke.
  14. When you crave cigarettes, eat low-calorie foods (such as carrot or celery sticks, or sugar-free hard candies) or chew sugar-free gum.
  15. Limit drinks that have alcohol or caffeine. They can trigger urges to smoke.
  16. Exercise. It’s a great way to relax. You may want to start a fitness program before you quit.
  17. Get support. Tell others that your goal is to kick the habit.
  18. With your doctor, make a plan that uses over-the-counter or prescription nicotine-replacement products.

It’s tough at first. You’ll probably crave cigarettes, be irritable, feel more hungry than normal, cough often, get headaches, or have trouble concentrating. These are symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. It’s strongest when you first quit and will go away within 10 to 14 days.

In those first few days, work to stay in control. Think about your goal. Remind yourself that these are signs that your body is healing and adjusting to your new smoke-free life.

Most people try to quit three times before it lasts. Hang in there! It will be worth it when you can confidently say you used to smoke.