Features May 2013 Issue

Benefits of Quitting Smoking Greater than Risks of Weight Gain

A recent study finds that the extra pounds that often go on after you quit smoking are much less of a cardiac threat than continued smoking.

If you’ve ever tried to stop smoking, you know that weight gain can often be an unwanted result. But if you’re worried about how those extra pounds will impact your heart health, a recent Swiss study suggests you’re still much better off stubbing out those cigarettes.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that middle-aged and older adults who stop smoking were about half as likely as smokers of the same sex and age to have a subsequent cardiovascular event, even though they tended to gain weight. The study also found that participants with diabetes who recently quit smoking gained an average of about eight pounds in four years, while those without diabetes gained around six pounds. Study participants who had quit a long time ago did not continue to gain weight.

Overcoming Fears
Researchers noted that about half of female patients and a quarter of male patients expressed real concern about gaining weight after quitting smoking. But Cleveland Clinic cardiologist David Frid, MD, a specialist in preventive cardiology, says such concerns need to take a back seat to the benefits of smoking cessation.

“The ultimate take-away is that patients shouldn’t worry about the little bit of weight they gain when they stop smoking, the cardiovascular benefits are outweighed by the risk that comes with the weight gain,” he says. “The patient has to decide what is more important—aesthetic looks or their health.” He adds that most ex-smokers lose the weight through a combination of exercise and healthy eating.

Researchers hope physicians can use the study findings to help reassure patients that they will experience quantifiable and legitimate protection against cardiovascular events and premature death if they quit smoking.

Quitting smoking often requires the use of products and other support, and smokers are urged to discuss such options with their doctors.

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