Q: I am over 70 years old. Is there really any benefit to quitting smoking now when I have already smoked most of my adult life?
A: The short answer to your question is yes. However, the longer answer is not as simple. If you have been smoking for over 40 years, then quitting is not an easy task. I imagine that hidden inside part of your question is a hope that the answer is no, so that you do not have to deal with what quitting will look and feel like at your age.
Studies show that quitting even after the age of 60 will lower your risks of cancer, heart attack, stroke, and lung disease. Even your blood circulation will improve. You may also find that your sense of taste and smell improves, you can exercise more easily, and your self-esteem will improve.
By quitting, you will be an example to those around who and maybe even inspire someone else to quit or cut back on smoking. You will also ensure you are not hurting anyone else’s health around with secondhand smoke. Living a healthier lifestyle has many benefits. You will even save money, as a pack a day habit can cost you over $180 a month.
The nicotine in cigarettes is the drug that makes them so addictive. Many people who quit, especially after having smoked regularly for so many years, will have withdrawal symptoms. You can expect to crave smoking, to feel easily agitated, tired or even hungry. You may have headaches, depressed mood swings or trouble sleeping during your withdrawal.
It helps to keep perspective that these withdrawal symptoms will fade over time. However, you will need a good plan in place to handle the symptoms. Always start by talking to your doctor. There are nicotine products to help ease withdrawal, such as patches, gum, or lozenges that you can buy over the counter. Ask your doctor what they recommend, or if they can suggest a prescription medication to help you quit. Some items may be covered by your health insurance.
The first step is deciding to quit and feeling confident in your decision to be healthier and do something proactive for your body. Set yourself up for success by having a plan on how you will handle cravings. You can ask a friend to be your support, use a smoking hotline, or plan to journal or do an activity like taking a walk when you feel a craving. The National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline is available at no charge at 877-448-7848 (877-44U-QUIT).
If you slip and have a cigarette, think through what was not working for you and try again. It is never worth getting upset with yourself because that tends to lead us to give up on our goal all together. Instead, use your slip as motivation to keep going. You may want to create incentives for yourself. Consider planning to buy a treat or attend an event every time you reach a milestone of not smoking.
Quitting smoking is never easy, but do not allow age to be a reason not to try. If anything, this is the time to help make your older years more comfortable, and literally help you breathe easier! Build your support system and remind yourself every day why the goal of quitting smoking is so important to your health and wellbeing. Post your goal on your fridge and tell everyone you know to help hold you accountable. It is never too late to make a healthy change in your lifestyle.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.