Smoking and lifespan: we crunch the numbers

Discover what smoking does to your brain, how it increases your risk of dementia and how many years you can add to your life by quitting smoking.

Can stopping smoking help prevent dementia?
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“For me, sitting in the car with no smokes felt like I was starring in a slow-motion film. All I could think about was needing a cigarette.”

After this article, you’ll know why author Deb Palmer gave up smoking and the number of years you can add to your life by doing the same.

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Can reading ease the cravings?

Deb Palmer and her husband would often spend hours on the road, riding up and down hunting for valuables to sell at their antiques store. 

To pass the time, she’d chain-smoke cigarettes, regardless of whether she was behind the wheel or not. 

And then, in 1992, her left lung collapsed. After her hospitalisation, she knew she’d have to give up smoking. The problem was that the road trips for her business still had to continue, which were a huge trigger for her smoking.

How did she deal with the constant cravings?

Deb and her partner started reading thrilling books to each other during their drives, which kept their minds occupied and provided a fresh activity to do instead of smoking.

30 years later, she has remained smoke-free, despite starting smoking at age 13. She no longer needs reading as a distraction from smoking, she still loves the pastime. 

According to the research, let’s see how many years Deb may have added to her life.

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How many years can I add to my life if I stop smoking?

Here’s the good news. 

Studies have shown that by quitting smoking, it is possible to reduce your risk to that of somebody who has never touched a cigarette in their life. 

Oxford researchers followed nearly 35,000 doctors across 50 years and discovered that if you quit smoking before the age of 60, you might buy yourself an extra three years of life. 

How long does it take to reverse the brain damage from smoking?

Research suggests that it takes just under a year (0.9 years) without smoking to recover from every year you spend smoking. 

You can work this out for yourself with the following easy equation:

years of smoking * 0.9  = recovery time in years

  • This means that if you spent ten years smoking, your brain would take nine smoke-free years to recover.
  • Twenty years of smoking? Your brain will have healed after eighteen years without a smoke.

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What does smoking do to my brain?

Let’s zoom into the brain of a smoker. 

MRI scans of smokers versus non-smokers have shown that the more you smoke, the faster your brain loses volume in vital areas as you age. 

Although it is normal for your brain to shrink as you age, the brains of smokers seem to shrink at double the rate of a non-smoker. 

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Can smoking affect how my brain works?

We see the effects of brain volume loss play out in everyday life.

Scientists examined over 3,000 adults and found that smokers scored lower on cognitive function tests that evaluated their processing speed, attention and working memory.

This is more serious than simply forgetting what you had for lunch yesterday. For smokers, it can mean struggling to keep up with the speed of information around them. Holding attention to one thing becomes a challenge, and working memory - the ability to keep information at the forefront of the mind - suffers.

Can smoking lead to dementia?

The research on smoking and its link to dementia is overwhelmingly convincing. 

One of the leading reasons for this strong connection is that both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are strongly tied to problems with your blood vessels, which undergo massive amounts of damage from the chemicals within cigarettes.

Researchers combined the results from multiple studies and created the World Alzheimer’s Report. They found that smoking leads to a 30 - 50% greater risk of developing dementia. 

It is estimated that 14% of all Alzheimer’s Disease cases in the world are due to smoking.

Is the amount of cigarettes smoked related to the risk of dementia?

Researchers combined the results of 37 studies and found that the risk of developing dementia increases by 34% for every 20 cigarettes smoked per day. 

Why is this important?

Because if giving up smoking sounds like an unrealistic and impossible task to you, just cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke a day can lower your risk. 

Can second-hand smoke increase my risk of dementia?

Even being in the same room as people who smoke might contribute to your risk of dementia.

Breathing in second-hand smoke is considered passive smoking, and while the associations are not as strong, a review of three studies found that it could be considered a significant risk factor for cognitive impairment in older adults. 

Cigarettes increase the risk of strokes, but can this lead to dementia?

According to the CDC, smoking increases your risk of a stroke by two to fourfold

Watch this video to find out how strokes can cause vascular dementia:

What should I take away from all this?

We’re here to be your friendly guide on the next decisions you make today, tomorrow and into the future.

Yes, smoking isn’t great for your brain health, but here’s what we want you to remember:

It is never too late to cut down or quit.

As we’ve now seen, cutting back today can greatly reduce your risk of developing dementia, and stopping completely could add many more healthy years to your life. 

If you’re ready to kick the habit entirely, we highly recommend visiting your GP and taking advantage of the excellent online resources offered by the NHS.

Looking for a lifestyle coach that prioritises your brain health?

Download our medically validated app today to assess your brain health, gauge your lifestyle factors, and get guidance from our digital coach on how to improve the five areas vital to reducing your risk for dementia.

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Smoking and lifespan: we crunch the numbers

Discover what smoking does to your brain, how it increases your risk of dementia and how many years you can add to your life by quitting smoking.

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