“I Quit Smoking … And the Scale Keeps Going Up!”

A doctor weighing a male patient in his late 50's early 60's.

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to quit smoking. A month into 2023, a certain percentage of smokers who resolved to become former smokers are still sticking with it. But some report that during January, they seem to have gained a few pounds. This is a common but frustrating turn of events for them. How ironic to take such a big step to improve our health in one way, only to take a bit of a step backwards in another department!

It’s true that carrying too much weight is bad for us. Our nation is experiencing an obesity epidemic, and that includes a rising number of older adults. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that being overweight is associated with a shorter lifespan and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and other diseases. Said study author Dr. Sadiya Khan, “A healthy weight promotes healthy longevity, longer healthspan in addition to lifespan, so that greater years lived are also healthier years lived.” Added Dr. Khan, a professor at Northwestern University School of Medicine, “It’s about having a much better quality of life.”

You also may have read studies during the past few years showing that people who quit smoking may raise their risk of type 2 diabetes. That’s not good! However, before smokers justify taking up the habit again, they should know about a study from Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

“It’s been known that quitters may have an elevated risk of developing diabetes or worsening glucose tolerance in the first few years after quitting, and this may discourage smokers from quitting,” said study author associate professor Qi Sun. “But our study shows that it is the weight change after quitting that determines diabetes risk—so as long as quitters minimize their weight gain, their diabetes risk will not increase and, over the long run, is reduced.”

Sun and his team also found that it is overall better for our health to quit smoking, even if we put on a few extra pounds afterward. The team found that even people who gained around 20 pounds after quitting lowered their risk of early death due to all causes, and most especially heart disease. They also lowered their risk of several cancers.

This research confirms that quitting is the best choice. And once we quit smoking, we might have more energy to go after those unwanted extra pounds by planning healthy meals, getting more exercise and spending time doing things that uplift our spirits and lessen cravings.

If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program that’s right for you. Stay at it. If you relapse, try again. Focus on quitting for good. And then, talk to your doctor about your ideal weight and a weight loss program that can help you get there. Think long-term! Once you’ve quit smoking and lost that extra weight, you’ll experience a boost in health and feel so much better. That is worth the effort.

The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation, and a weight that is right for you.

Source: IlluminAge reporting on a study from Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

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