Though once considered harmless or even healthy, we now understand that smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, smoking causes over 480,000 deaths every single year. Compared to nonsmokers, the average smoker has a life expectancy that is shortened by over ten years. Men who smoke are seventeen times more likely to die from emphysema or bronchitis, twenty-three times more likely to die of lung, trachea or bronchial cancers, and four times more likely to die of heart disease. Women who smoke are twelve times more likely to die of emphysema, bronchitis or lung, trachea and bronchial cancers, and almost five times more likely to die of heart disease. The total number of deaths attributed to smoking between the years 2005 and 2009 was a staggering 480,317.
Most of us learned about the correlation between cigarettes and lung cancer in elementary school, but in fact, smoking tobacco damages just about every part of the human body. In addition to damaging your respiratory system, cigarette smoke can harm your circulatory system by causing blood vessels to grow thick, restricting the blood flow. This results in increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and a heightened risk of developing blood clots.
Smoking has an impact on the number and health of men’s sperm, which can greatly reduce a man’s fertility. It also increases your risk of developing type two diabetes by up to 40%, compromises the immune system, contributes to rheumatoid arthritis, damages teeth and gums, and accelerates bone loss (particularly in women, which leads to an increased instance of broken bones. If pregnant women smoke, they are more likely to miscarry, deliver prematurely, suffer an ectopic pregnancy, or deliver a baby who is at an increased risk of low birth weight or SIDS.
So there is no argument: smoking is, from a scientific point of view, pretty terrible for your health. But it’s not as if most people who suffer from tobacco’s dangerous effects waltz willingly into the arms of sickness and death without a fight—many people try to quit smoking on at least one occasion, but they find it difficult or nearly impossible. According to the CDC, four out of every ten adult smokers went at least one day without a cigarette in 2012 because they were trying to quit. That’s over 40% of smoking adults who tried to kick the habit!
Quitting smoking is hard, and many people have to make multiple attempts before they are successful. Nicotine withdrawal can causes irritation, depression, anxiety, lack of focus, headaches, hunger, and strong cravings for cigarettes. While these withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, if you can push through, the benefits are worth it: quitting smoking hugely reduces your risk of falling victim to cigarette-related illness. And plenty of people have done it, too! Today, there are more ex-smokers than there are current smokers.
While some rely on nicotine patches or pills to slowly wean themselves off nicotine, others want to take a more natural approach. For those people, I have put together a list of five tactics you can use in your quest to quit smoking naturally.
5 Ways to Stop Smoking Naturally
- Eat fresh lime
This quit smoking quick home remedy now has some science to back it up. A study published in Thailand took a group of 100 smokers and sorted them into groups: one which received fresh lime, and one which received nicotine gum. Over the course of the study, they analyzed their exhaled carbon monoxide levels to determine how much they were smoking, and asked the participants to rate their cravings on frequency and intensity. Although less likely to abstain in the short-term (at the four week mark), by the 9-12 week period, there was no difference in smoking abstinence rates between the two groups. Though the lime munchers reported slightly more intense cravings, the cravings were no more frequent than the nicotine gum users. The experts concluded that consumption of fresh lime may aid in supporting smokers who are looking to quit.
Though using lime rather than nicotine gum may result in slightly worse cravings, it’s far better for your health. Lime is a micronutrient-dense food that has nothing but positive side effects. It’s high in Vitamin C, antioxidants and healthy flavonoids, and low in calories and fat.
- Get moving
Perhaps the best way to kick your cigarette habit is to pick up a new one: in this case, exercise. Several studies have shown that regular exercise increases your chances of quitting cigarettes for good. You don’t have to go to boot camp to feel the benefits, either—participants in the study who engaged in physical activities like jogging or riding bicycles experienced decreased nicotine cravings, which led to an increase in the number of people who successfully quit smoking.
Scientists at the University of Exeter discovered that exercise results in short-term chemical changes inside the noggins of smokers, which correlated with reduced nicotine cravings. It turns out that runner’s high is good for more than just a boost in your mood!
In addition to the biochemical support a good jog can provide, the act of forming a new habit may be helpful for smokers, too. Many people who are trying to change a bad habit find that it becomes infinitely easier to stop doing one thing if they can replace it with something else. Smokers who cite stress relief as a primary reason for smoking may find that it works in their favor to lace up a pair of Sauconys and go for a jog next time they’re feeling the need to smoke! By weaning yourself onto a new habit, like exercise, you will be less likely to pace around the kitchen ruminating about how much you miss smoking.
- Try hypnotherapy
Before we get into it a little more, here is a disclaimer: this will not work if you ask your cousin to dangle a watch in front of your eyes and whisper, “You will not smoke,” for ten minutes. We are talking about real, trained hypnotherapists!
For many people, hypnotherapy is an effective, chemical-free way to get rid of bad habits—including smoking. Using deep breathing techniques, guided meditation, and aromatherapy or relaxing music, your hypnotherapist will guide you into a trance-like state where they can help rewire your subconscious brain in a way that will boost motivation and dull cravings. One study done at the University of California, San Francisco found that hypnotherapy was just as effective as the mainstream anti-smoking techniques at helping patients abstain from smoking. The findings also suggest that this method may be especially helpful for smokers who have dealt with a history of mental illness, like depression or anxiety. This may be because of the added support that only a mental health professional can provide. Either way, it’s good news for anyone struggling with both mental illness and nicotine addiction!
- Have a massage
You don’t have to shell out a lot of money hiring a masseuse for this one to work, either—this study observed the effects of self-massage on nicotine cravings. Massage therapy had been shown to help smokers get through withdrawal symptoms in the past, so the University of Miami took it upon themselves to test whether or not the effects would remain the same if one employed self-massage.
Lo and behold: it worked. The participants in the study who practiced self-massage reported significantly lower rates of common withdrawal symptoms, including nicotine cravings, irritability, anxiety, depression, and headaches. They also smoked far fewer cigarettes than the control group.
To put this tactic to use in your own home, try massaging the most sensitive areas of your body to combat cravings, like your ears, temples, hands, feet, shoulders, or the back of your neck. If you have a spouse who is willing to give you a hand (or two), take advantage of it!
Meditation strikes again! A study at Yale took a group of 88 people who smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day and assigned them into one of two groups: one group which received mindfulness training, and a second group which received the ALS’s Freedom From Smoking treatment plan. When they came back a week before the follow-up appointments were scheduled, the researchers found something shocking: over 30% of those practicing mindfulness had been cigarette-free for a week or more, while only 6% of those using the Freedom From Smoking treatment plan could say the same.
This study proves, once again, that meditation works. If you have never meditated before, there are plenty of guides available online for beginners—many of which are designed specifically to help smokers. You can find DVDs, CDs or even podcasts that will guide you, if that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for.
If you’d rather keep it simple, turn to meditation when cravings hit. Take a deep breath, sit down, and focus on your breathing for five or ten minutes. Meditation will reduce your stress levels, boost your motivation and self-control, and help you let go of the urge to smoke.