Cardiac Rehabilitation and Quitting Smoking

Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease as well as many other chronic disorders. If you already have heart disease, you may think, "What good will it do me to quit smoking now?" It can do quite a bit of good. Heart disease can be prevented and controlled by following your treatment plan, which includes quitting smoking.

Learn more about smoking and heart disease.

Download our patient information sheet: How Can I Quit Smoking?: English (PDF)| Spanish (PDF)

Getting ready to quit smoking

Congratulations! Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health and add years to your life. People who quit smoking generally live longer than people who continue to smoke. You’re more likely to quit smoking for good if you prepare for two things:

  • Your last cigarette
  • The cravings, urges and feelings that come with quitting

Look at quitting as this five-step process:

Step 1: Set a quit day

Choose a date within the next seven days when you’ll quit smoking. Use the time until your quit day to prepare and to gradually cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke.

Step 2: Choose a method for quitting

There are three ways to quit smoking. Choose the method or combination you think will work best for you.

  • "Cold turkey": Stop smoking all at once on your quit day. This method doesn't prolong the quitting process.
  • Reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke each day until you stop smoking completely. For example, if you smoke 20 cigarettes each day now, cut down to 10 per day for two or three days. Then cut down to five cigarettes for two or three days. On your quit day, stop smoking completely.
  • Smoke only part of each cigarette. It helps to count how many puffs you take from each cigarette and reduce the number every two or three days. On your quit day, stop smoking completely.

Step 3: Decide if you need medications to help you quit

Sometimes medications can help make your first few weeks easier. A nicotine replacement medication (gum, spray, patch or inhaler) may help you stop smoking.

There are also non-nicotine replacement medications, varenicline or bupropion, that can help curb your withdrawal symptoms. 

  • While taking these drugs, if you experience any serious and unusual changes in mood or behavior or feel like hurting yourself or someone else, you should call your health care professional right away.
  • Friends or family members who notice these changes in behavior in someone who is taking varenicline or bupropion for smoking cessation should tell the person their concerns and recommend that they call a health care professional right away.

Medications are most helpful when they’re used correctly and combined with a behavior-modification programs. Talk to your health care professional about which medication might be best for you and get instructions about how to use it.

Step 4: Plan for your quit day

Use this checklist on the day before your quit day. If you can check off all three items, you're well prepared.

____ I have healthy foods to eat when I quit smoking, such as:

  • Fresh fruits
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Sugar-free hard candies
  • Sugarless chewing gum
  • Other foods I like: _______________________________

____ Each day I don’t smoke, I plan to mark my success with one of these activities:

  • Watch a movie
  • Visit my friends
  • Take a walk
  • Do a hobby
  • Do other activities I enjoy: __________________________

____ I got rid of every cigarette, match, lighter, ashtray and butt from my house and car.

Step 5: Stop smoking on your quit day

Congratulate yourself for taking a huge step toward better health!

As soon as you quit, your blood circulation increases, your blood pressure and heart rate quickly improve, and the carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in your blood soon return to normal.

Within a few days of quitting, your breathing becomes easier and your senses of smell and taste improve.

Your urges to smoke should decrease daily after you quit smoking.

Get a calendar and every day mark the number of days since you've had a cigarette. As the days pass, you'll see how much time you have invested in quitting — one more reason to stay smoke free.

Get more personalized help if you need it. Quitting smoking is never easy. If you have trouble, ask your doctor, nurse or rehab center staff about more intensive programs to help you. Contact or visit the websites of the American Cancer Society or American Lung Association to get information about group programs.

The American Heart Association has a wealth of information about quitting smoking, including a more detailed list of benefits and tools to help you kick the habit.