Good news for older people who smoke: If you quit smoking, you will reap the benefits in a fairly short period of time.
A new study by researchers at the German Cancer Research Center of 8,807 people between 50 and 74 found that a person slashes their risk of heart attack and stroke by more than 40 percent within the first five years after the last cigarette.
"We were able to show that the risk of smokers for cardiovascular diseases is more than twice that of non-smokers," Professor Hermann Brenner said in a press release. "However, former smokers are affected at almost the same low rate as people of the same age who never smoked.
"Moreover, smokers are affected at a significantly younger age than individuals who have never smoked or have stopped smoking," he added.
For example, a 60-year-old smoker has the same risk of heart attack as a 79-year-old non-smoker and the same risk of stroke as a 69-year-old non-smoker. The number of cigarettes smoked and the duration of the habit also have an impact on disease risk. The more cigarettes a smoker consumes per day over a prolonged period of time, the higher his or her risk climbs.
According to researchers, the study's results suggest that smoking cessation programs -- which have been designed largely with younger people in mind -- should be expanded to reach out to older people as well.
The study looked at people who had never suffered a heart attack or stroke, and then evaluated their physical condition for up to 10 years afterwards. In their evaluation, the scientists also considered the effects of other factors such as age, gender, alcohol consumption, education and physical exercise as well as blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol levels, body height and weight.
Another smoking-related report released by the German Cancer Research Center last year suggested that smoking was linked to increased mortality in older people and that stopping smoking was linked with reduced mortality at an older age.
For people in general, studies show there are all sorts of benefits to stopping smoking including an almost immediate drop in heart rate and blood pressure. There are also other rewards such as whiter teeth and better breath.