Among the behaviors within your control, not smoking is by far the most critical single action you can take to prevent heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Quitting can be tough, though.

“Nicotine is a chemically addictive substance, and smoking is also mentally addictive because of the habits we associate with it,” says cardiologist Dr. Parag Joshi, M.D. of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.

But there are smart strategies that can help you join the legions of others who have successfully broken the habit. Try these tips to help yourself quit.

Decide to quit smoking

You’ve got to be ready to quit to have success. There are many strategies to help you quit, but first you have to make up your mind that you really want to do it—as thousands have before you.

Get rid of reminders of your smoking life

Remove cigarettes and ashtrays from your home and office. Have your car cleaned and deodorized. Spend time in different places, rather than in old haunts where there’s other people smoking.

Create substitute habits

For those stressful moments when you’d ordinarily reach for a cigarette, look for new ways to get relief, such as meditation or deep breathing. Exercise is a smart stressreliever with the added benefit of making you want to smoke less. Be sure to get your doctor’s OK before starting any new vigorous exercise program.

Pick a quit date

Joshi prefers to urge his patients to focus on a special date, sometime within the next month or so, such as a birthday or anniversary. This target lets you taper off and prepare mentally, rather than quitting cold turkey (although, he points out, that can also work for some).

Picture your smoking-cessation motivations

Many people decide to quit smoking after a scary event, such as a heart attack, gives them a wake-up call. Imagine some concrete goals: Avoiding another stroke? Being around for a grandchild’s birth? Being able to walk easily again without leg pain? Being able to breathe easier?

Tell family and friends

They can encourage you and cheer you on and not smoke around you to help you avoid temptation.
Even better: When your partner or a friend quits at the same time, you can reinforce each other.

Ask your doctor for help

A lot of people teeter-totter when it comes to quitting and just need help. There’s no shame in asking for help, and it’s never too late. I’ve had patients quit even in their 60s and 70s. That said, quitting when you’re younger-or never starting to begin with-is best.

Remove smoking triggers

Think about when you smoke: Do you wake up and have a cigarette with your coffee and newspaper, for example, or smoke after meals?” asks Joshi. “Shake up your routines, like exercising in the morning, so you’re less tempted to smoke.”

Consider stop-smoking aids

Many patients have had success with nicotine replacements like patches and gum, or with medications to help them quit.