Lungs are easily taken for granted. You probably don’t think about your lung health daily unless you have a condition that compromises their functioning.
Every minute that you’re alive, you take 12 to 20 breaths. Your lungs work tirelessly, bringing in oxygen to power each and every one of your organs. The second your respiratory system is compromised, your life is at risk.
Maybe we should be thinking about protecting our lung health before something goes wrong. Below, you’ll find 10 tips for keeping your respiratory system in the best shape it can be. First, let’s find out what kinds of conditions and diseases can threaten a person’s lung health.
Common Lung Conditions
Lung disease can be caused by a number of different things, but the most common causes are smoking, infections, and genetics.
The respiratory system is made up of a few different parts, including the trachea (windpipe), bronchi, bronchioles, and alveoli. Some lung diseases affect the airways while others affect the lungs lower down, in the alveoli, or the air sacs.
These are the most common respiratory illnesses in the U.S.:
- Asthma. This is a condition in which the airways narrow because they are inflamed and swollen. They also begin to produce extra mucus. Asthma causes dry cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightening. It can be triggered by allergies, infections, and even physical activity.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a term that covers many respiratory illnesses that inhibit a person’s ability to exhale normally. This condition may go undiagnosed for many years, as it very gradually worsens over time. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing up sputum first thing in the morning.
- Chronic bronchitis. This form of COPD is characterized by a chronic cough. Coughing is worst in the morning. Acute bronchitis happens when there is a sudden viral or bacterial infection of the airways, and it can usually be treated with antibiotics.
- Emphysema. This respiratory disease is another form of COPD caused by damage to the lungs, usually from smoking. People with emphysema experience difficulty exhaling. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, and it often leads to respiratory failure.
- Cystic fibrosis. This genetic disease is characterized by an excess of thick, sticky mucus in the airways that the body has difficulty getting rid of. The accumulation of mucus causes repeated lung infections that become increasingly dangerous over time.
- Pneumonia. Pneumonia is a common lung disease in which the alveoli become infected. It is usually treatable with antibiotics; however, for some people, pneumonia can be life-threatening.
- Lung Cancer. Cancer that develops in any part of the lungs is called lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in the U.S. (1)
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Unfortunately, this list is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to different complications and diseases that can affect the respiratory system.
On the bright side, there are many things we can do on a daily basis to keep our lungs healthy. Healthy lungs have a lower risk of developing chronic disease, like the ones mentioned above, and a greater rate of recovery from acute disease.
10 Tips for Healthy Lungs
Your respiratory health is a great indicator of your overall health. You can boost your lung health by implementing the tips listed below.
1. Quit Smoking
Smoking doesn’t just increase your risk of lung cancer; it also causes many other respiratory diseases, some of which are mentioned above.
Smokers are regularly breathing in huge amounts of toxins, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. They then settle in the lungs, damaging lung tissue, and significantly compromising breathing and quality of life. Smokers are not only putting themselves in danger, but they’re also endangering those around them who are invariably breathing in their second- and third-hand smoke.
2. Stay Active
Just like every other part of your body needs exercise to stay in shape, so do your lungs. Both people with and without respiratory problems can greatly benefit from regular exercise—30 minutes of physical activity per day, five days a week.
Studies show that exercise can improve the quality of life in those with lung conditions. Exercise helps to increase lung capacity, which allows you to bring more oxygen into the body, improving the functioning of all systems. (2)
3. Avoid Indoor and Outdoor Pollutants
Nothing poses a greater threat to your lung health than toxins. Pollution is everywhere—inside your home, outside your home, in your office, even out in nature.
Pollution in your home or office can come in the form of radon gas, the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (3)
Radon gas forms when radioactive metals break down in rocks, soil, and groundwater. It can come through cracks in your wall and slowly build up in your lungs as you breathe it in over time. It’s a good idea to have your home tested for radon gas.
In addition, limit other pollutants in your home by regularly dusting and vacuuming, opening windows regularly for ventilation, and getting rid of any synthetic sprays such as air fresheners, hair spray, toxic bug spray, and the like. Ensure that your home is free from mold by ventilating damp areas.
Outdoor pollutants are everywhere. They come in the form of cigarette smoke, chimney smoke, car exhaust, dust from construction, gases from waste material, and much more. Smoke inhalation causes premature aging of the lungs, so stay away from smokers and keep that in mind when barbequing or when setting up a campfire. Avoid exercising near busy roads, where you’ll be breathing in car exhaust. If there are pollutants at your workplace, wear a mask and take all safety precautions.
4. Stay Hydrated
Dehydration causes compromised functioning of all systems in the body, including the respiratory system. Drink enough water in order to keep the mucosal lining in the lungs thin. The thicker it is, the harder your lungs will have to work to get enough oxygen.
5. Do Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises are especially important for people with lung problems, but they’re beneficial for healthy people as well. Use different techniques to focus on lowering the diaphragm, increasing lung capacity, and breathing correctly so that you are allowing your ribs, belly, and chest to expand as you breathe.
For a simple technique, count as you fill your lungs slowly to capacity and then count again as you exhale. The time it takes you to inhale and exhale should be equal. Add one count at a time as you work on increasing your lung capacity.
6. Use Natural Remedies for Lung Support
There are many herbs, spices, and roots that are praised for their lung support and overall health benefits. Some of them include:
- Plantain leaf
- Osha root
To relieve a cough and thin out mucus, making it easier to expel, focus on drinking warm fluids, including herbal teas. Peppermint, ginger, marshmallow root, and honey teas are ideal natural cough remedies.
For an extra boost to your lung health, create a steam bath with essential oils. The steam helps to loosen mucus, making it easier to cough up. Many essential oils are expectorants, meaning that they promote the secretion of mucus and treat coughs. The best essential oils for respiratory health include basil, eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, tea tree, thyme, and oregano.
7. Watch Your Posture
You may be surprised at how greatly your respiratory health is affected by your posture. When you slouch or hunch over, you limit the space available for your lungs to occupy. This makes it impossible for you to fill your lungs to capacity. Sit up straight. Every so often, stretch your arms up and out and take a few deep breaths.
8. Prevent Infection
Life-threatening lung disease doesn’t usually start off that way. It can start with a small infection, cold, or cough that eventually gets out of control and becomes something a lot more serious.
You can prevent that from happening by looking after your overall health on a daily basis. Wash your hands with soap and water regularly when you’re out in public, and make it a habit to do the same each time you walk through the door of your home. Always maintain good oral hygiene by flossing every day and brushing your teeth—including your gums, tongue, and palette—twice a day. Get all the necessary vaccines, avoid getting near people who are sick, and stay inside when you’ve come down with something yourself.
9. Attend Regular Checkups
During a regular checkup, your doctor will listen to your lungs, among many other things. If your doctor finds anything out of the ordinary, he or she will send you for further testing. This is important because it means that something was detected a lot earlier than it otherwise would have been. The earlier a health condition is addressed, the better the prognosis.
10. Take Supplements
We need vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and other nutrients to stay alive. Different nutrients support the body in different ways, and so deficiencies in certain nutrients can upset respiratory functioning.
Studies show that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of lung disease and that those with lung problems have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. (4) Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a respiratory illness that can be caused by exposure to pollutants, autoimmune disease, infections, or medication. However, many of those who are diagnosed with ILD have lower than normal blood levels of vitamin D. (5)
Taking nutritional supplements can lower your risk of developing all kinds of chronic diseases, including lung disease.
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Your lungs keep you alive every minute of every day. Make sure that you’re treating them well by avoiding pollutants such as cigarette smoke, toxic gases, synthetic sprays, mold, and dust. Regular exercise is vital to lung health as well.
There is no better time than during this November’s Lung Cancer Awareness Month to take up some healthy lung habits like the ones mentioned above. Breathe on!