Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: It's never too late to quit smoking

Smoking is undeniably bad for the heart and arteries. Quitting is good no matter when you do it — even after having a heart attack.

By following the health and habits of 1,500 men and women who had a first heart attack in 1992, Israeli researchers were able to quantify the benefits of never smoking and of quitting. Among the participants, those who never smoked or who had completely quit smoking at least six months before their heart attacks were 50% less likely to have died over 13 years of follow-up, compared with those who kept smoking. Those who quit after their attacks also did themselves a lot of good, and were 37% less likely to have died (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dec. 15/22, 2009).

Smokers who couldn't kick the habit but who cut back also reaped a benefit. The researchers estimated that cutting back was linked to an 11% decline in death rates.

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