The role that long-term, heavy smoking plays in developing lung cancer and heart disease are widely known. But it also plays a significant role in damaging dozens of other body systems and overall health.
For example, evenapart from specific damage to the lungs or larynx or arteries, smoking reduces the desire to exercise in most people. By using a chemical to lower stress, that motive for exercise is reduced. By lowering oxygen concentration, constricting arteries and causing "smoker's hack" the incentives for healthy exercise are lowered still further.
The net result is that smokers tend to be more sedentary. That reduces overall fitness. As a result, the body is less able to deal with the normal strains put on it. What would otherwise be minor health problems, become larger and harder for the immune system to deal with.
Long term, heavy smoking has more direct effects on the body, in every area. It increases the odds of acquiring a variety of other cancers, such as cancer of the esophagus, the stomach and the cervix. It causes a form of leukemia.
COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is one of the possible conditions among long term smokers. About one in four contract it and it's estimated that 80-90% of COPD cases are among those who smoke. Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma (types of COPD) are much more prevalent among smokers than non-smokers.
Smoking ups the odds of having an aortic abdominal aneurysm (a weakening of the lining of the blood vessel). That makes it much more likely to rupture, which is generally fatal if not corrected within minutes.
Postmenopausal women smokers have, on average, a lower overall bone density than those who have never smoked. That makes it more likely for them to suffer hip fractures from falls, a problem among many of the elderly. Such bone fractures are sometimes fatal, as a result of subsequent complications.
The most well known ill-health effects from long-term, heavy smoking remain, of course, lung cancer and heart disease.
'Long term' is vague, but the longer the habit, the higher the odds. Some UK studies, for example, show that those in their 30s and 40s are five times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. Long-term, one-pack-a-day smokers have 2-4 times the chance of developing coronary heart disease than do non-smokers.
'Heavy' is equally vague, but one pack per day is the most often cited figure and it correlates well with the amount most smokers consume. It's estimated that 87% of lung cancer cases in the U.S. are the result of smoking a pack per day for 20 years or more.
Stopping now provides immediate lowering of the risk. Within 3 months the circulation improves. After a year, the odds of acquiring heart disease are half that of a smoker. After 5-15 years, the odds are that of someone who has never smoked. Don't think it's too late. Start today on a program to quit smoking.