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NORMAL — Bill Waller has the right idea, says a doctor who works with people on quitting smoking.

By beginning an exercise routine as he quit smoking, Waller did what Dr. Rizwan Malik, a pulmonologist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, recommends for quitters.

"I recommend that they go to pulmonary rehabilitation three times a week," he said. The combination of quitting smoking with exercise not only makes the lungs and entire body stronger, but the physical and social benefits of exercise improve quality of life, Malik said.

"You feel better about yourself," he said.

According to the 2017 County Health Rankings, 14 percent of McLean County adults were smokers.

"Smoking has gone down compared with 30 years ago, but it's still too high of a prevalence," Malik said. "Smoking is the No. 1 cause of health issues that are preventable by lifestyle modifications."

Smoking doesn't just weaken the lungs and heart; it also causes bad breath, can delay healing from illness and can affect the body's ability to fight off infection, he said. Smoking is costly and can affect health insurance rates.

"For a young person, it can affect their ability to exercise and enjoy life," Malik said. "All that is limited."

For smokers who desire to quit, Malik suggests meeting with their health care provider to develop a plan. That includes setting a quit date and talking about medicine that can help, including nicotine patches and Chantix, which decreases withdrawal symptoms and reduces the feelings of pleasure from smoking.

For quitters who go back to smoking, Malik urges them to try again. The average smoker quits five to seven times before they stick with it.

Some benefits — such as breathing more easily, coughing less and improved endurance making daily movement and exercise easier — begin within two weeks, Malik said.

Within 15 years, the risk of cancer for former smokers is nearly as low as for people who never smoked, Malik said.

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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