On different health-related TV programs, Instagram and the like, there seem to be a lot of images and videos comparing healthy lungs to those of smokers.
As you know, smokers’ lungs appear rather dark and unhealthy compared to normal bright and pink lungs of non-smokers. In certain markets, these images are included straight on the surface of cigarette packages as well in an attempt to appeal the dangers of cigarettes.
But when a smoker starts quitting smoking, will their lungs return to a clean, purified state? Are there ways for smokers to purify or cleanse their lungs? And how long does it take? This time, we’ll introduce what happens to lungs after you begin your quit.
Will my lungs heal after I quit smoking?
Is there a possibility that the lungs darkened by smoking will repair themselves just by quitting smoking? First of all, the human lung is originally bright pink, due to the number of capillaries and rich blood supply available. As a smoker inhales cigarette smoke, the tar and other toxins it contains will begin coating their lungs, eventually turning them blackish in color. It can be said that lungs have become “clean” when they have returned from this into their original pink state.
So how long does it take for lungs to recover? It is said that it can take about seven years from when a smoker finally quits until their lungs regain a cleaner color. Although the positive impact smoking cessation has on physical fitness will start appearing soon after quitting, because the lungs are organs directly receiving damage from tobacco, it will take a long time for them to heal.
To facilitate this process, there are several natural ways to detox your lungs, including:
- Change your diet by eating more antioxident-rich vegetables like artichokes, broccoli, red beans, spinach; plus fruits like apples, blueberries, prunes and grapes; and drink green tea.
- Exercise more, and aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (e.g. jogging, swimming) four to five times a week. Yoga and breathing exercises may also not only help in improving lung function, but may help counteract some of the stress of quitting.
- Ensure the indoor air quality of your home or apartment is as high as possible by using a HEPA filter-equipped air conditioner/air purifier.
“Clean” and “healthy” lungs have different meanings
As mentioned above, it can take more than 7 years for lungs to return to a cleaner state. However, this does not mean that lungs once blackened by smoke are now pink, pure and thoroughly cleaned. In addition, even as the lungs begin cleaning themselves, the risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses has not necessarily disappeared yet.
It is said that a smoking cessation period of about 10 years is necessary for smokers to once again have a similar disease risk level as non-smokers. Of course, this is influenced by many factors, such as the number of years you smoked and how much you were smoking.
You can actually estimate a timeline for how long it would take for your lungs to become cleaner by using the following formula:
Number of packs smoked in a day X number of years X 2
So if you were smoking for 10 years at a rate of 1 pack per day, it will take 20 years for your lungs to become much healthier. Pinker lungs look healthy at first glance, but it is not so easy to completely eliminate tobacco toxins – especially when they have been coated with toxins over the span of several years or decades.
Also, another important factor is the age when you began smoking. Since the lungs are still forming up until your mid-20s, if you began smoking around age 21, you may have stunted their growth somewhat.
“Purified lungs” aren’t “non-smoker’s lungs”
Although it takes quite some time for lungs to heal and for the risk of disease to return to a level similar to non-smokers, there’s some bad news: the damage done is most likely permanent. Even after quitting smoking and doing your best to be healthy, the lungs of people who have smoked in the past will not completely return to their original condition.
So does this mean that if you’re older in age, you shouldn’t bother quitting? Not at all. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people aged 70+ who were currently smoking were more than three times more likely to die than never-smokers, whereas former smokers were less likely to die the sooner they quit. Even if your lungs may not necessarily return to their original condition, the overall risk factors associated with smoking will begin to fall as soon as you stop – no matter your age.
Purification of the lungs takes a very long time of 10 years or more. Also, although your lungs may become much cleaner over time, they will not be completely restored. However, if you continue smoking as it is, your lungs will only continue to be damaged. Please do not forget this point, and keep up your motivation for quitting smoking.
Once you start your smoking cessation plan, your body will begin the process of resetting and healing. Let’s recall the visual of the smoker’s lungs when you seem to be at risk for falling off the wagon.