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Quitting Smoking in Old Age Slashes the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke by 40 Percent

Update Date: Feb 22, 2013 05:08 PM EST

It's never too late to quit smoking, according to a new study that found that lifelong smokers who gave up smoking later on in life were able to cut their risk of heart attack and stroke by an overwhelming 40 percent within just five years of quitting.

The study consisted of nearly 9,000 German adults between the ages of 50 and 74 years.  Researchers monitored the participants for 10 years.

The findings, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, revealed that those who were well into old age were still able to reverse some of the damage smoking inflicted on their body.

Professor Hermann Brenner and his colleagues from the German Cancer Research Center and his team found that while smokers had double the risk of developing heart disease compared to non-smokers, former smokers were at almost the same low rate as nonsmokers of the same age.

"We were able to show that the risk of smokers for cardiovascular diseases is more than twice that of non-smokers. However, former smokers are affected at almost the same low rate as people of the same age who never smoked," Brenner said in a news release. "Moreover, smokers are affected at a significantly younger age than individuals who have never smoked or have stopped smoking."

Researchers found that a 60-year-old smoker has about the same risk of myocardial infarction as a 79-year-old non-smoker and the same risk of stroke as a 69-year-old non-smoker.

However, researchers noted that it doesn't take long for people to reap the positive effects of quitting smoking.

"Compared to individuals who continue smoking, the risk of myocardial infarction and stroke is reduced by more than 40 percent already within the first five years after the last cigarette," co-researcher Carolin Gellert said in a statement.

Researchers said that the latest study suggests that it's never too late to give up smoking and reap the health benefits.  Based on the latest findings, researchers recommend that smoking cessation programs, which generally focus on younger smokers, should be expanded to help older smokers quit the harmful habit as well.   

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