Quitting smoking can cut the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by almost 40 per cent, new research has found.
The team, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, analysed data from the Framingham Heart Study, which followed more than 8,700 participants across three generations – who smoked at least one pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years – from 1954 through to 2014.
The experts found that heavy smokers who had smoked for more than 20 years could reach a lower risk level of cardiovascular disease within five years after quitting, compared to current heavy smokers.
However, it could take up to 25 years after quitting for the risk to be as low as that of a non-smoker, and researchers are urging heavy smokers to quit now.
"The cardiovascular system begins to heal relatively quickly after quitting smoking, even for people who have smoked heavily over decades," senior author Dr. Hilary Tindle said. "Full recovery could take years, so now is a great time to quit smoking and take other steps toward heart health."
Adult smoking rates are currently at an all-time low in the U.S, down from 42 per cent in the 1960s to 13.9 per cent today.
Research leader Meredith Duncan said that while previous studies have shown the association between quitting smoking and reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, this study has finally confirmed that it will take years for heavy smokers to become low-risk.
"The Framingham Heart Study provides particularly robust data on lifetime smoking history," added Duncan. "Our team leveraged this unique opportunity to document what happens to CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk after quitting smoking relative to people who continued to smoke and to those who never smoked."
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).