FRIDAY, Dec. 16, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Not only does their health improve, but people who quit smoking get a boost in their quality of life, new research finds.
"Quitting is hard, but if you can actually do it, there are a lot of benefits that you might not have thought about," said study author Megan E. Piper.
"If you thought you'd have more stress, that quitting would put more stress on your relationships, or that you'll feel worse forever, that isn't the case," said Piper, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and its Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.
The findings don't make specify how much of a difference quitting makes in percentage terms. Still, they show a definite gain, she said. Three years after stopping, study participants who had quit reported fewer stressors and improved mood compared to those who continued smoking.
Piper said she and her colleagues wanted to see if they could confirm assumptions about smokers feeling better after they quit and "put some science behind what everybody thinks is true."
One way to do that is to look at how people describe their quality of life. That's tricky, Piper said, since quality of life tends to decline as people age. Even so, the researchers figured they could examine trends over time by comparing people who kept smoking to those who quit.
The study authors looked at the results of surveys of 1,504 people from Wisconsin -- 58 percent women, 84 percent white -- who took part in a smoking cessation study that began between 2005 and 2007. Participants were assigned to one of six groups, some of them using a nicotine patch, nicotine lozenges, the drug bupropion (Wellbutrin), a combination of those aids or a placebo. All also received counseling to help them quit.
Researchers followed the participants for three years and tested their blood to see if they had actually quit. They also asked about self-regard, standard of living, relationships, friendships and other measures of quality of life.
The study results were published online Dec. 9 in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Overall, quality of life went down for both groups, those who quit and those who kept smoking, but it went down less for the quitters, Piper said. "This is just a little bit of additional scientific evidence that things will get better if you can get through those first couple of months."
Although the findings don't prove cause-and-effect, the authors said they suggest that life satisfaction could be used as a motivating tool for people reluctant to quit smoking. Smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than nonsmokers on average, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Linda Sarna, the chair of nursing at the University of California, Los Angeles, who's familiar with the research, agreed with what the study says regarding the value of quitting smoking. "The message is that it's not just about reducing your risk of heart disease or cancer, it's also about benefits," she said. "You'll get through this and your quality of life will be probably be better than if you continue to smoke."
The message is especially important now when people are making resolutions for 2012, she said. "They will be able to get over the loss of smoking -- the loss of that friend, the cigarette," she said.
For more about quitting smoking, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.