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5 Secrets to a Longer Life

Clear the Air

A nonsmoking woman lives 14 1/2 years longer than one who smokes, on average. So the advice isn't surprising: If you smoke, quit. And the earlier you do, the longer you'll live.

Women who don't smoke have half the risk of developing heart disease, half the risk of having a stroke, and 12 times less risk of getting lung cancer. Women are more sensitive than men to tobacco's carcinogens, research shows; they have twice the risk of developing lung cancer than men and are more susceptible to the adverse effects of secondhand smoke. Rates of lung cancer in women are skyrocketing -- it now causes as many deaths as breast and all gynecological cancers combined.

The good news: Women's lung function improves faster than men's when they quit. To quit (or help your spouse do so):

Be patient but persistent. It takes an average of seven attempts to kick the habit.

Pick up the phone. Using a quitline doubles your chance of success. Trained counselors help you plan a personalized quitting strategy by giving advice on appropriate medicine, suggesting changes in daily habits, and providing emotional support. (To find one in your state, go to [XREF {} {} {_blank}].)

Replace the nicotine. Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) -- gums, patches, or nasal sprays -- increases your chance of success by an additional 50 to 100 percent. For smokers who are heavily dependent on tobacco, sprays may be more helpful than patches. The prescription drug bupropion has similar benefits: Between a quarter and a third of smokers who use NRT or bupropion are still smoke-free six months later, studies find. And combining NRT with bupropion may be more effective than either alone.

Unite! Joining a support group -- whether it's through work, your insurer, or a local hospital -- is very helpful.

"It could have been stress, the long winter, who knows?" says ten-year smoker Elizabeth Kowalski, a bookkeeper in Plymouth, Vermont, who quit when she was pregnant, only to start up again when her baby, Julia, was just 3 months old. Such a relapse, especially after pregnancy, is common. "I knew that smoking was very unhealthy for me, but it alarmed me even more to think about how it might be harming my daughter and husband," she says. (Secondhand smoke may increase an infant's risk of SIDS and ups the chance she'll have respiratory problems.)

Determined to stop, Kowalski called a quitline and talked with a trained counselor, who tailored a program that fit her lifestyle and personality. And it worked. "Quitting was the toughest thing I ever did in my life," she says. "But I know that every day I go smokeless is one more day that I'm getting healthier and not endangering my family."

Becoming a mom adds a whole new motivation -- being there for your children -- to the universal desire to live a long, healthy life. Of course, being a busy mom also makes it harder to take control of your health. But taking these five steps toward a longer life may be the best gift you can give to yourself -- and your family.