21 days to a new you: Stop smoking

So this is going to be the year! You've made the decision to quit smoking, and that's a big step.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

You already know all the health reasons smoking is bad for you: It's one of the leading causes of heart disease, lung issues, asthma, and many types of cancer. And maybe you want to make a promise to yourself and your family to stick around longer — and to make their environment healthier, too — by eliminating second-hand smoke. Keep all these things in mind over the next few weeks, as the cravings can be tough. But remember: Millions of other people have quit smoking, and you can too. And next year at this time, you will feel stronger, healthier, happier, and even a little richer! Good luck.

By Anne Hurley for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 23 Stop smoking (Steve Snodgrass | Getty Images)

Day 1: Go see your doctor

This should be the very first thing you do, as quitting smoking will be a shock to your body's system. Your doctor wants nothing more than for you to quit, so discuss all the options available to you.

Video: Quit smoking -- Tips to keep you from lighting up

She can prescribe nicotine patches to help you through the next few weeks or months, or other mild prescriptions that can help tamp down those nasty cravings. Whatever assistance you need, your doctor is going to be a great ally in the coming weeks. After you decide and embark on a course of treatment, be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment to monitor your progress and keep you on track.

2 of 23 Doctor (Thomas Barwick | Getty Images)

Day 2: Slap on the patch

If you and your doctor agree that a nicotine patch will help ease your addiction, today's the day to start. But resolve not to overdo it — recent studies have shown people can get just as addicted to nicotine in these forms. And whatever you do, never sneak a smoke or chew nicotine gum while you are absorbing nicotine from a patch. One final note: Don't expect the patch to do all the work. A study in 2012 by

3 of 23 Ian Hooton | Getty Images

Day 3: Stock up on sugarless gum

It's true you'll need another habit — or several — to help get you over the craving to light up. Buy lots of different flavors of sugarless gum and go crazy. Stash packs around your house and your office and in your car — anywhere you've had the craving to light up. I have a friend who swears chewing gum helps, "but only a minimum of four pieces at a time." So warn your family you might be imitating Bessie the Cow for a while. Bonus: Chewing gum has been shown to actually reduce stress.

4 of 23 Bubble gum (Compassionate Eye Foundation | Christa Renee | Getty Images)

Day 4: Whiten your teeth

Reward yourself for quitting by seeing your dentist for professional tooth-whitening or getting do it yourself trays. Your teeth haven't had the chance to be nice and white for a long time, so now is the perfect time. It may take a couple of weeks to get them sparkly white, but every day you'll see a difference. Bet you'll get a lot of compliments on your fresh new (and younger!) look. And the nice look and feel of your clean, healthy teeth will be yet another deterrent to taking up cigarettes again.

5 of 23 White smile (Moodboard | Getty Images)

Day 5: Take up knitting

It's not a joke, and more and more men are enjoying this too. Knitting gives you something to do with your hands and develops a new skill to keep your brain busy. And it can be a great social outlet as well. It's so effective as a substitute for smoking that clinics in many cities refer recovering smokers to knitting, crocheting and other crafting groups. And you just might take care of your entire Christmas list, with a big bounty scarves, booties, and sweaters to show for it!

6 of 23 Knitting (Clarissa Leahy | Getty Images)

Day 6: Get flavored Chapstick. Apply liberally

Changing that hand-mouth habit can be a tough one. Many people find that having flavored Chapsticks, lip glosses, and lip balms available to apply whenever the urge strikes really helps. And men, if Chapstick seems too girly, check out balms by Burt's Bees, Kiehl's, or even old-fashioned Carmex. Apply in a manly manner and voila! Bonus: Your moist, supple lips will have extra protection from harsh weather or dry air. Which will make for an even happier smile.

7 of 23 Chapstick (Paul Vozdic | Getty Images)

Day 7: Kiss more

Now that you don't have that icky smoker's breath (and have softer lips because of the delightful lip balm you apply liberally), it's time to reap a big benefit: More kissing. Make a point of smooching your significant other today. He or she will delight in your fresher breath. And you will probably find you enjoy kissing even more than ever, as your senses of taste, smell and touch begin to return to your mouth — one of the body's most sensitive organs. Pucker up!

8 of 23 Kissing (Tyler Stalman | Getty Images)

Day 8: Sign up for a wine-tasting

As your senses of taste and smell begin to recover from the smoke, it's time to savor and reward those senses. What better way than a wine-tasting, where your nose is given a lot of challenges and information, and your tongue is instructed to taste different things on different parts of it. Pay close attention to the new things you can smell and taste and take note of how much fun that is — and just how much you were missing out on while you were smoking.

9 of 23 Wine (Lara Hata | Getty Images)

Day 9: Dance up a storm

After a few weeks of not smoking, you will find your endurance has increased. Build on this by signing up for a hip-hop or Zumba dance class. Or, if your extra smooching has mesmerized your significant other, sign up together to learn salsa or swing dancing. You'll notice the difference in your "wind" as you get farther away from cigarettes and build up your lung strength. And the exuberance you feel throughout your system is the release of long-suppressed endorphins, a highly powerful substance that can also help beat down the craving for nicotine

10 of 23 Zumba (Stephen Simpson | Getty Images)