5 Healthy Changes From When I Quit Smoking

My pack-a-day smoking habit was destroying my health.

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Photo by Daniel Apodaca on Unsplash

Last year, I quit my pack-a-day smoking habit. I had been a daily smoker for well over a decade, starting when I was in college, so it was a tough habit to kick.

What made quitting worth it for me was knowing that I still had a good chance of reducing the long-term health risks associated with smoking. Although it feels like I’ve been smoking for my entire life, I’m still in my thirties, and I hope that I haven’t done irreversible damage.

I’ve had several family members die from lung cancer, so I know firsthand how terrible smoking related diseases can be. It terrified me into quitting.

At the time that I quit, my entire focus was on these long-term health effects. I didn’t even know that smoking was having any immediate effects on my health. After quitting however, I was surprised to see how much my health immediately improved. Smoking had already been harming me far more than I realized.

Easier Breathing

The biggest change that I noticed was that my breathing became much easier. As a smoker, I didn’t think that I had trouble breathing. My breaths weren’t raspy or labored — there were no obvious signs. After quitting though, I was able to take much deeper breaths than I had in years. This was especially noticeable on my runs.

Even as a smoker, I liked to run, and my times were pretty decent considering my habit. After quitting though, my times rapidly improved without any real change in effort or training. I stopped getting out of breath on runs except after my most challenging efforts. Even my watch’s estimate of my VO2 Max quickly shot up.

Less Coughing

Another change since quitting smoking is that I stopped coughing so often. As a smoker, I was constantly coughing and clearing my throat. It seemed to get worse as the years of smoking went on.

When I first quit, I actually started coughing more. I was concerned, but learned that this is a normal symptom of quitting cigarettes. Within a month, my cough got better again, and after another month or two, it disappeared completely.

It’s nice to be coughing less, especially with the coronavirus around. These days, everyone is understandably on edge about coughing, and I’m glad not to be getting concerned glances everywhere I go.

Stronger Tastes

Two of my senses have improved since quitting smoking: taste and smell. Taste is the more important one to me, because it’s completely changed how much I can enjoy food.

When I was smoking, I relied on extremely strong tasting food, because smoking had dulled my taste buds too much to enjoy anything else. I’d eat a lot of things like ultra-spicy wings, or incredibly bitter coffee. I didn’t get much out of more subtle tastes.

After a few months without cigarettes, my sense of taste started improving. I started to enjoy foods that used to taste bland. Strong tasting foods finally tasted strong. I also got better at recognizing the ingredients in my food.

Even today, just over a year later, my sense of taste still seems to be getting better. My physical ability to taste food might have leveled out, but as I practice using this sense more often, I get better at noticing ever-more-subtle tastes.

Improved Smells

My sense of smell has improved as well, although I have to admit that it’s been more of a mixed blessing. It’s great to be able to smell my food better, and some plants smell great as well.

On the other hand, I’m noticing a lot of terrible smells that never registered with me when I was smoking. Some of the plants here in North Carolina are absolutely foul, and I’ve also passed a few areas on my runs where I can smell what must be dead animals. I’m a little relieved that I couldn’t smell things this well when I used to live in Chicago.

Still, with all kidding aside, it has been great to see this sense restored. Between a better sense of taste and a better sense of smell, I feel like quitting smoking has completely altered my ability to perceive the world.

Better Sleep

The final change that I noticed was improved sleep. Like with my coughing, this got worse before it got better. During my first few months without cigarettes, I struggled a lot to fall asleep at night. Over the past year though, it has gradually improved.

When I was smoking, I always felt like getting to bed required a delicate balance. I’d need to have smoked a cigarette within the past hour or so, or my cravings would be too strong to fall asleep. But if I had smoked a cigarette within less than 15 or 20 minutes, the nicotine would keep me up.

I’d often lay in bed, feeling the cravings getting stronger, debating whether to give in and smoke or keep trying to sleep. It feels great to no longer have to do this.

Waking up is easier without cigarettes too. I used to think that cigarettes helped me wake up, but now I realize that the “tiredness” I was feeling every morning was mostly just cravings for nicotine. When I wake up these days, all I need to feel refreshed is a glass of water.

Quitting smoking would have been worth it just for the long-term benefits, but all of these short-term improvements to my health have really been the icing on the cake. Seeing so many changes in such a relatively short time has given me even more motivation to keep going. Quitting cigarettes has truly been one of the most life-changing decisions I’ve ever made.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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