Giving Up Smoking - Real Results?

I’m an ex smoker. I gave up about 5 months ago after smoking a pack a day for 8 years. Since giving up, I have been putting a lot of effort into getting in shape (cardio 5x a week, strength training 3x a week).

I’m really happy with the results so far. But I wonder - will I ever be anywhere near as fit as I would have been had I never smoked? I’ve tried to find information on lung function of ex smokers compared to non smokers. Most of my hits compared results of ex smokers to smokers, which is not what I’m looking for.

So what’s the straight dope??

I’m an ex smoker too.

My question is: What’s the point of such a hypothetical comparison?

If you start exercising, soon you will feel so much better that you did before, what does it matter if you aren’t the equal of some hypothetical person? Even if you had never smoked, you still wouldn’t be as fit as some other people. Why not just enjoy your better health?


That’s typical of the kind of answer I found while googling, which is why I came here to try and get the facts. In case you didn’t notice, I already said that I’m really happy with the results from working out.

I’ve seen once such a comparison, in a newspaper article, specifically regarding pulmonary capacity. There were several graphs for non-smokers, smokers, and people who had quit smoking at various ages.

When people grow old, their pulmonary capacity is somewhat reduced. The earlier you quit, the least lasting impact it will have. Quite obviously. Beyond a certain age, the difference between ex-smokers and non-smokers becomes very significant, and the loss of pulmonary capacity will be higher when they’ll become old.

Very roughly, and as far as I remember, if you quit before 30, there will be almost no difference with a non-smoker. If, on the other hand, you quit after 40, you’ll never fully recover and when you’ll become old, you pulmonary capacity will also drop more than a non-smoker or an early quitter. Maybe I’m unclear : not only in this case there will be a difference with a non-smoker, but this difference will increase with age, even though you keep not smoking. Your lungs won’t fully recover and will later deteriorate quicker.

A note as a smoker who failed to quit several time. I’m sure you’re satisfied with the difference. But you probably still don’t realize how much of a difference it makes. When I quited, I noticed that I felt a bit better. But when I started again smoking I felt a lot worse. I’m not sure why, but possibly, it takes a while for your lungs to clear out, so you don’t fully notice the progressive improvement but smoking again mess up with your lungs quickly and you notice clearly the short breath and such.

One of the people I live with is a Respiratory Therapist. I’ll ask her tonight.

But in the meantime, I wanted to say “Huge congrats!”. As an ex-smoker, I know how hard it must have been to quit, and as a cyclist, I sometimes wonder about the same things you do … and I also wonder “If I hadn’t quit smoking, would I be out on my bike now, or be a fat slug by now?” All signs point to yes.

I’m not sure such a generalized comparison is even possible.

There are confounding factors that make such a comparison extremely difficult. The first is that exercise in and of itself improves lung function even in people who have never smoked. The second is that the respiratory system recovers on its own, even without exercise. You can do a before-and-after comparison of lung function before and after smoking cessation, but you’d have to control for both the improvement caused by the exercise and the natural recovery process, and I’m not sure how you’d do that.

BTW, congrats on quitting smoking and exercising! Even if you never get the hard numbers you’re looking for, enjoy the subjective (and objective) improvement in your health.

Down over 90 lbs.
Non-smoker for 141 days and counting

clairobscur, I’m 27 so I really like what you remember :wink: I’d love to see those graphs.

MsRobyn, I take your point. It might be impossible to have a really accurate comparison, but surely a rough one could be possible? Like, lung function (and other measures of fitness) of an ex smoker may be between 40-60% of a non smoker, given same/similar exercise levels. Right now I feel totally blind…could it be possible I have 10% of the lung function I’d have had if I was a none smoker… or could it be 95%?

And to all, many thanks for your well wishes. Giving up smoking has given me the confidence to take control of many other areas of my life as well. Congratulations to the ex smokers and don’t stop trying to the future ex smokers!!

Anecdotally, I’m quite sure my lungs will never be what they would have been if I’d never smoked, and I quit over 20 yrs ago. Most colds turns into bronchitis and/or pneumonia., for instance. But I smoked much more heavily than you did.

All I can tell you is what my doctor told me years ago (she was also a cardio specialist): It takes about 20 years for your body to be completely free from the toxic effects of smoking, even though your lungs recover within a year. Exercise and diet would certainly help that process along, I would think.

I wish I had kept them too. But unfortunately, that was just a newspaper article (in a reputable paper, though : namely, “Le Monde”). I paid attention because I’m a smoker myself, but not enough attention to remember the details. I just remember that there was a kind of cutting age rather than a strictly progressive decline. Before it, not much difference with a non smoker, after it the curbs on the graphs would drop significantly. But I can’t remember what this age was exactly. Somewhere between 30 and 45 is all I can say.

Your risks of all sorts of smoking related illness including cancers and tooth loss will eventually decline to that of a never-smoker (in 13-20 years of not smoking), but your lung function will not return to as good as it would be if you were a never-smoker because everyone’s lungs decline as they age, and you can’t make up for lost time.

However, age related lung function decline in an ex-smoker who quits while his/her lungs are still fairly healthy is about identical to age-related lung function decline of a never smoker, but you’re starting from 20 yards back, so to speak. The graph is the same slope, but starts further down on the Y axis.

For more than moderately impaired lungs (when you quit), we’re just not that sure what your age-related decline will look like if you quit. That is, if you’ve already got advanced COPD when you quit, you may be fucked, but if you’re just short of breath with exertion and have a smoker’s cough, those will go away and your rate of decline will be very close to that of a never smoker.

This is why quitting smoking as young as possible (that is, when the lungs are still as healthy as possible) is really important for people diagnosed with mild COPD, and the best “treatment” we’ve got for it.

I wonder the same thing. I have smoked since I was 14 yrs old am now 64. According to the Dr my lung finction is still very high even if I was a non smoker but I can feel my lungs get tight in the evening. Everyday I entertain the thought of quitting but as soon as I get started on a project I want to smoke. Good luck and stick with it.