Older people who smoke may think there’s no reason to give up the habit. After all, hasn’t the damage to their bodies already been done?
But it turns out there’s a benefit to quitting even later in life. Research published Wednesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that older adults who quit smoking in their 60s had a lower chance of dying in the years that followed than contemporaries who kept smoking.
“It’s never too late,” says Sarah Nash, an epidemiologist and one of the study’s authors.
The results are based on data from more than 160,000 participants older than 70 who were part of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants completed questionnaires about their smoking history in 2004 or 2005 and were tracked until the end of 2011 to see who had died.
The study found that it’s definitely best to avoid smoking entirely. During the follow-up period, 12 percent of participants who never smoked died, compared to 33 percent of current smokers. And the earlier people quit the better, but there was still a benefit even for late quitters. Of those who quit in their 30s, 16 percent died. In their 40s: 20 percent. In their 50s: 24 percent. And in their 60s: 28 percent.
Still, people who quit in their 60s had a 23 percent lower risk of death during the study than current smokers, says Nash, who conducted the research while she was a fellow at the National Cancer Institute.