A woman places her hands on her chest and diaphragm to feel and guide how she is breathing.

Lung Health Rebounds to Expect After You Quit Smoking

The impact of cigarette smoke on respiratory health is undeniable. Every puff introduces harmful chemicals into the lungs, damaging the delicate tissues and impairing their function. Yet, our bodies possess an astonishing capacity for repair. The moment a smoker quits, a cascade of healing processes commences. This article delves deeper into the transformative journey of lung and respiratory health post-smoking cessation.


The Immediate Aftermath of Quitting

Within just a few hours of refraining from smoking, noticeable changes occur. Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood drop.1 Oxygen levels in the bloodstream see a marked improvement over the next few days as carbon monoxide levels drop.1,2 As it decreases, oxygen can more effectively bind to hemoglobin, ensuring tissues and organs get the oxygen they need.


The First Few Months: Breathing Easier

Between the first month and the ninth month, smokers may witness significant relief in respiratory discomfort. Coughing episodes and the feeling of breathlessness decrease. The recovery of cilia, tiny hair-like structures in the lungs, plays a pivotal role during this phase. In healthy lungs, cilia work tirelessly to push out mucus and defend against infections.3 As they regain function, the lungs can better cleanse themselves, reducing the chances of respiratory infections like bronchitis.


Year One: Strengthening Lung Capacity and Function

As smokers transition from months to a full year of smoking cessation, the real magic starts to unfold in the depth and capacity of their lungs.

  • Improved lung function. One year into quitting, many ex-smokers report a noticeable difference in their breathing. Activities that once seemed strenuous due to breathlessness, such as climbing stairs or brisk walking, become markedly easier. This newfound ability to breathe more easily is due to the regeneration and repair of lung tissues, leading to increased lung capacity.
  • Reduced respiratory infections. With the improved function of cilia and the reduction of harmful substances present in the lungs from smoking, the likelihood of infections like pneumonia and bronchitis diminishes.4 The body becomes more proficient at clearing out mucus and defending against pathogens.
  • Enhanced stamina. A byproduct of better lung capacity and function is increased stamina. Former smokers often find they can engage in cardiovascular activities, like jogging or cycling, for extended periods without feeling winded.

This one-year milestone truly showcases the body's resilience and ability to recover, given the right conditions and care.


A Decade of Freedom: Cutting Lung Cancer Risks

Ten years might seem like a long time, but in the context of health recovery, it's a significant milestone. By this point, individuals who've quit smoking cut their risk of developing lung cancer by 30% to 50%.This underscores the fact that while the body can repair a significant amount of damage, the adverse effects of smoking linger for years.


The Long-Term Gains and Ongoing Recovery

Beyond the ten-year mark, the benefits of quitting smoking continue to accumulate. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a debilitating condition characterized by persistent respiratory symptoms, sees its progression decelerated in ex-smokers.4 It's crucial to understand that some damages, especially those from prolonged smoking, might be permanent. Nevertheless, quitting smoking at any stage brings about a slowdown in the deterioration of lung function.


Additional Benefits to Respiratory Health

When one quits smoking, the respiratory system doesn't just heal in isolated ways; it undergoes a multifaceted recovery. Here are some of the additional benefits to respiratory health that ex-smokers can anticipate:

  • Decreased inflammation. Overall inflammation is reduced, resulting in decreased tissue damage and a reduced inflammatory immune response.6
  • Enhanced immune function. With a bolstered immune system, ex-smokers may find that they experience lower rates of infection and illness.6
  • Asthma relief. For those diagnosed with asthma, the frequency and severity of asthma attacks can diminish significantly after quitting smoking.4 This leads to improved daily comfort and may reduce dependency on asthma medications.

Quitting smoking is a comprehensive health reboot, with benefits permeating various facets of respiratory function.

The journey to improved respiratory health after quitting smoking is a blend of immediate gratifications and long-term rewards. Regardless of the duration or intensity of one's smoking history, the decision to quit is undeniably the first step towards a healthier life. The lungs, with their remarkable resilience, will thank you with every breath. 


  1. Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/tobacco/benefits-of quitting-smoking-over-time.html. Accessed 12/5/23.
  2. Physiology, Oxygen Transport And Carbon Dioxide Dissociation Curve. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539815/. Accessed 10/20/23.
  3. LUNG REGENERATION IN ABSTAINING SMOKERS. Radiat Prot Dosimetry. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31793636/. Accessed 10/20/23.
  4. Benefits of Quitting: Respiratory Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/how_to_quit/benefits/index.htm#respiratory-benefits. Accessed 10/20/23.
  5. Cigarette Smoking: Health Risks and How to Quit. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes prevention/risk/tobacco/quit-smoking-pdqAccessed 10/20/23.
  6. Smoking cessation reduces systemic inflammation and circulating endothelin-1. Scientific Reports. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-03476-5. Accessed 12/5/23.