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Thank you for subscribing to Heart Health, an Avera eNewsletter that provides you with useful information about cardiac care and prevention. We believe a healthy lifestyle starts with a strong heart. To learn more about our services and community events, or to find a physician, visit www.Avera.org.

To your health,

The Avera Staff

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If you smoke, one of the best ways to improve your cardiovascular health is to quit smoking. But any former smoker can tell you that quitting a tobacco habit is not easy. Planning ahead can go a long way toward a lasting commitment to smoking cessation.

Having a plan to quit is a good first step, says Deb Murray, a respiratory therapist at the Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. "Choose a quit date, and start feeling good about your decision even before you quit," she says.

Before your quit date, research the options available to you. Know what resources are at hand, including nicotine replacement therapies, prescription drugs and counseling. The more support you have, including encouragement from family and friends, the more successful you will be.

As the holidays approach, be prepared. Holidays can be a stressful time, and stress can trigger a person to smoke. "Know who is going to the holiday parties you are going to," Deb says. "If there are smokers going to the party, know what you're going to do to prevent having cigarette with them."

Celebrate your successes during your journey to a smoke-free lifestyle. "Reward yourself at every milestone, whether it's one day, one week or one month," Deb says.

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Sometimes a former smoker's daily routine can offer many temptations to start smoking again. Understanding what triggers you to smoke can help you resist the urge. Respiratory Therapist Deb Murray of the Avera Heart Hospital suggests actions to cope with common triggers.

•  Many smokers say the biggest urge they have is to smoke right away in the morning. "Try getting up right away and brushing your teeth," Deb says. "That might distract you from thinking about cigarettes."

• When driving, try listening to a new CD or audio book. Take a different route to work, if possible.

• Avoid alcohol in the first few weeks you're trying to quit. If you do drink, choose smoke-free bars and restaurants.

• Drink your coffee with the hand you don't usually use to hold your mug. This forces your mind to concentrate on the new sensation instead of smoking.

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If you smoke, make a commitment today during the Great American Smokeout to take steps toward quitting. The day, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, encourages smokers to set a goal of quitting or cutting back on smoking starting today. The hope is that by quitting for one day, smokers will be motivated to stop smoking completely.

The health benefits of smoking cessation begin almost immediately. Just 20 minutes after a person's last cigarette, pulse rate and blood pressure return to normal range. "Within just 24 hours of not smoking, the chances of having a heart attack have decreased," says Deb Murray, respiratory therapist at Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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In Great Health online archive.