Even if you quit smoking at the age of 60, you can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke within the first five years, say German researchers.
After a person quits smoking, this risk continues to decrease. On an average, the risk for former smokers is only 1.3 times that of people who have never smoked in their lives.
In the most comprehensive study so far on the impact of smoking on cardiovascular disease among older people, epidemiologist Ute Mons from the German Cancer Research Centre analysed 25 individual studies, compiling data from over half a million individuals aged 60 and older.
He found that the more time that has passed since one has quit, the more considerable the decrease in a former smoker's risk of dying from heart attack or stroke.
"Within the first five years after smoking one's last cigarette, the risk already decreases measurably," he noted.
The increase in risk depends on the number of cigarettes that a person has smoked in his or her lifetime.
After one quits smoking, this risk continues to decrease.
Since people often find it difficult to determine the relevance of relative risks, Mons and her colleagues also used an alternative method to assess the results of their meta-analysis.
They calculated the number of years by which smoking accelerates death from heart disease.
They found that the age of smokers who die from cardiovascular disease is, on average, five-and-half years younger than people who have never smoked in their lives.
By contrast, the age for former smokers drops to just over two years younger than life-long non-smokers.
"Therefore, it is never too late to stop smoking. Even people in the highest age group still gain considerable health benefits from it," concluded study head professor Hermann Brenner.