Time To Focus On Lung Health

As a Physiotherapist who provides treatment for heart and lung conditions and also as someone who is an asthmatic themselves, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought into much sharper focus the incredibly important role that our lungs play in our overall health. There are many ways that we can take better care of our heart and lungs, but the most obvious one is to stop smoking, or to encourage someone you know to stop smoking.

There have never been so many good reasons to quit smoking, but I would like to discuss a few with you now.

The Effects of Smoking

It has long been established that smoking is incredibly detrimental to our health. Smoking is responsible for 15,000 deaths per year in Australia and it is estimated that 1 in every 2 smokers will die prematurely.

There are over 7,000 different chemicals apart from nicotine in cigarette smoke, many of which are known to induce cancer. Cigarette smoke has the potential to damage all of the major organs in our body, but it is most likely to cause damage to the lungs and therefore impair our breathing.

The long term effects of smoking include:

  • Lung disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) 
  • Cancers
  • Risk factor for erectile dysfunction in men (pay attention gentlemen) 
  • Pregnancy problems and lower fertility in women (pay attention ladies)
  • Increased ageing effects 
  • Heart disease 
  • Stroke 
  • Blindness 
  • Musculoskeletal disease (lower bone density, fractures)  
  • Gastro-intestinal disease  
  • Oral disease
  • Peripheral vascular disease

 

These issues are not just evident in people who smoke, but also in people who have been exposed to second-hand smoke, or passive smoking. Children who are exposed to passive smoke are at increased risk of lung disease such as asthma and bronchitis, decreased lung function and lung growth, meningococcal disease and also SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) in infants. There are also significant health effects to unborn babies in mothers who smoke and children who are breastfed by mothers who smoke.

Smoking, Viral Infections and COVID-19

There is growing evidence to suggest that people who smoke are likely to be more severely impacted by COVID-19, because smoking damages the lungs so that they don’t work as well. For example, lungs naturally produce mucus, but people who smoke have more and thicker mucus that is hard to clean out of the lungs. This mucus clogs the lungs and is prone to becoming infected. Smoking also affects the immune system, making it harder to fight infection.

People who smoke are generally at higher risk of respiratory tract infections, like lung and chest infections. People with poor lung health and other conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer (which can be caused by smoking) may be at higher risk of complications if they do become infected with any virus. It’s important to remember stopping smoking has many health benefits, even beyond a link with COVID-19, so it’s always a good time to quit.

The Benefits of Quitting Smoking

One of the barriers that prevents people from quitting smoking is that they believe that it is too late, that the damage has already been done and that there is no point.

This could not be further from the truth.

There is always benefit to be had from quitting smoking and it is always a good time to quit. As soon as you have your last cigarette you stop exposing your body to further harm and the body starts the process of returning lung function back to normal.

Here’s what happens to the lungs when you quit:

One day after quitting

            Almost all of the nicotine is out of the blood stream

            Carbon monoxide levels drop and oxygen can more easily reach the heart and muscles   

One week after quitting

            The sense of taste and smell may improve

            The lung’s natural cleaning system starts to recover, removing dust, mucus and other particles

One month after quitting

            The immune system starts to work more effectively, fighting off infections

            The blood becomes less sticky, improving circulation to all parts of the body

6 months after quitting

            The lungs are working much better and produce less phlegm

            Stress levels are likely to be lower than when previously smoking

12 months after quitting

            Breathing is now much easier and the lungs are much more efficient.

2 to 5 years after quitting

            The likelihood of stroke and heart disease is significantly less than if smoking had continued.

10 years after quitting

            The risk of lung cancer is significantly lower than that of a continuing smoker

15 years after quitting

            The risk of heart attack and stroke are close to that of someone who had never smoked before.

1 Day After Quitting

Almost all of the nicotine is out of the blood stream

Carbon monoxide levels drop and oxygen can more easily reach the heart and muscles

1 Week After Quitting

The sense of taste and smell may improve

The lung’s natural cleaning system starts to recover, removing dust, mucus and other particles

1 Month After Quitting

The immune system starts to work more effectively, fighting off infections

The blood becomes less sticky, improving circulation to all parts of the body

6 Months After Quitting

The lungs are working much better and produce less phlegm

Stress levels are likely to be lower than when previously smoking

12 Months After Quitting

Breathing is now much easier and the lungs are much more efficient.

2 – 5 Years After Quitting

The likelihood of stroke and heart disease is significantly less than if smoking had continued.

10 Years After Quitting

The risk of lung cancer is significantly lower than that of a continuing smoker

15 Years After Quitting

The risk of heart attack and stroke are close to that of someone who had never smoked before.

Apart from the health benefits of quitting, there are also significant financial benefits. Depending on how much you currently smoke, you could save yourselves up to several thousand dollars per year if you were to quit now. In the current economic climate I think that is well worth considering.   

Smoking and Addiction

Currently 17.5% of Australian adults smoke or have smoked.

Smoking is highly addictive and there are many different aspects of addiction that the individual might be experiencing. It might be that they have developed addiction to the nicotine in cigarette smoke. It might be that they have developed a habit of smoking during certain times of the day or may associate smoking with other daily rituals (ie. Break times at work, lunchtime, coffee time. It might also be that certain emotional states can trigger the craving for a cigarette (stressed, bored, sad for example).

How can Physiotherapy help?

There is evidence to suggest that advice from a health professional can encourage someone to quit smoking. Quit smoking interventions are successful when there are opportunities to give brief advice or more extended support. Even brief advice results in more smokers quitting. Advice and support from a respected health professional encourages smokers to try to quit.


Physiotherapists are very well placed to provide health coaching for people wishing to quit smoking. We understand the different aspects of addiction to smoking, the different triggers and the barriers involved in quitting. We are also able to provide resources and direction so that people stay on track with their efforts to quit and stay smoke-free. From a personal perspective, I have also completed extra training in smoking cessation and am quite happy having a discussion with you if you are contemplating quitting.

None of the information in this article is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always see a medical professional for advice on your condition.  

Start The Conversation

If you would like to discuss your smoking and how we can help with your efforts to quit, feel free to book an appointment, either in person or via Telehealth. You can book online or call the clinic on (03) 5232 2400.

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