Most people know that smoking can negatively affect the lungs and heart, but some underestimate how harmful it can be to brain health. A study by the American Heart Association found that participants who smoked had a poorer processing speed and working memory. Overall, they had worse cognitive performance, independent of other conditions like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Considering how cognitive issues worsen as a person ages, it’s all the more important to understand the connection between smoking and brain health.
Effects of smoking on brain health
Tobacco smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease that affects not only the heart, but also the brain. Smoking can lead to vascular damage, causing arterial stiffness, platelet aggregation, and carotid artery disease— all of which are linked to stroke that can cause cognitive impairment and dementia. While these problems affect both sexes, women are more likely to see negative impacts on verbal learning due to smoking. Studies have also found that the brain structures of younger smokers were more affected due to them still developing. Research on the effects of smoking in teens by Edythe London, from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles, “found a thinner insula in the brains of people who had more cravings and felt more dependent on cigarettes”.
In addition to vascular damage, smoking can accelerate brain shrinkage— leading to faster aging. The thinning of the brain is especially evident in the frontal lobe, which processes memory, emotions, problem-solving, and motor functions. Through the loss of valuable brain cells and connections, complex thinking processes are much more difficult. Older people are already prone to poor brain health due to their age, leaving them at the highest risk for neurodegenerative diseases. In the worst-case scenarios, it leaves people unable to move properly and communicate.
How you can quit smoking
For the benefit of your brain health, it’s essential to quit smoking. Going cold turkey is a challenging physical and mental process, so make sure to find alternatives to prevent yourself from relapsing. Here are some ways you can work towards successfully quitting:
Try nicotine replacement therapy
The biggest challenge when quitting is tobacco withdrawal, which often leads to insomnia, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is one of the most effective ways to quit smoking, as it helps manage your cravings through small doses of nicotine. While NRT comes in various forms, one popular product is the nicotine pouch. The On! nicotine pouches listed on Prilla are 100% tobacco-free and can be placed in your mouth discreetly, allowing you to use them almost anywhere without leaving any stains or mess. Furthermore, they come in different strengths that can help you overcome withdrawal effects, whether you were a light or heavy smoker.
Another well-known product is Nicorette’s nicotine inhalator which enables you to take frequent, short, shallow puffs to help you deal with oral urges throughout the day. Although you need a prescription, having a healthcare provider can best tailor the recommended dosage to help you wean off tobacco.
Engage in physical activity
Physical exercise is a great way to distract you from tobacco cravings and release feel-good hormones. Aside from helping you quit, research has found how exercise can boost your brain health by:
- Improving focus and concentration
- Promoting the growth of new brain cells
- Reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disease
It is recommended to take at least three to four 30-minute workout sessions a week to maximize the benefits of exercise. Although completing that much physical activity can seem daunting, you can start by exercising a few minutes a day and then increase it over time. Through regular exercise, you can build sustainable health habits and improve your physical health.