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Older Ex-Smokers Reap Heart Benefits Faster Than Previously Believed

Update Date: Nov 20, 2013 11:16 AM EST
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It's never too late to benefit from smoking cessation. New research reveals that older smokers over 65 years of age can still cut their risk of cardiovascular disease-related deaths to the level of never-smokers when they quit.

Researchers found that older people who smoked less than 32 "pack years" (3.2 packs a day for no more than 10 years or less than one pack a day for 30 years) who gave up smoking 15 or fewer years ago cut their risk of developing heart failure or dying from heart failure, heart attacks and strokes to the same level as those who had never smoked.

While previous studies revealed that it took up to 15 years or more of abstinence for smokers to reach similar cardiovascular death risks as never-smokers, the latest study reveals that many people are able to lower their cardiovascular risk in less than 15 years.

"It's good news," Ali Ahmed, M.D., M.P.H., senior researcher and professor of cardiovascular disease at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Medicine, said in a news release. "Now there's a chance for even less of a waiting period to get a cleaner bill of cardiovascular health."

Researchers compared 853 people who quit smoking 15 or fewer years before with 2,557 people who had never smoked.

Researchers said that 319 former smokers in the study had smoked less than 32 pack years. The study determined pack years by multiplying the cigarette packs smoked per day times the number of years a person has smoked.

Researchers said that all the people in the study were over the age of 65 and the findings were adjusted for age, gender and race.

However, researcher noted that smokers who smoked less than 32 pack years but quit 15 or fewer years ago still had higher risks of dying from causes unrelated to cardiovascular health like cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. Those who smoked more than 32 pack years had higher risks of dying from any health condition.

"Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in America - if you smoke, quit and quit early!" Ahmed concluded.

The findings were presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2013.

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