The 5 Best Ways to Keep Your Lungs Healthy
Lungs are a critical component of the respiratory system; a group of organs and tissues that work together to help you breathe. The main role of the respiratory system is to move fresh air and get waste gasses out of the body. They take in oxygen when you inhale and force out carbon dioxide when you exhale, and play an integral role in maintaining the body’s overall health. We explore five of the best ways to ensure that your lungs are operating at their optimum level now and into the future:
1. Avoid Smoking
Smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer, responsible for around 80 percent of lung cancers. It is an extremely aggressive form of cancer and just 15 percent of people in the United States diagnosed with lung cancer survive five years after the diagnosis. Lung cancer is responsible for 1.38 million deaths annually as of 2008.
Not smoking in the first place is by far the best way to lower the risk of lung damage, but quitting smoking can also improve an individual’s chances of not developing this disease. Research has indicated that people can reduce their risk of lung cancer by up to 70 percent by quitting smoking. Beyond just lung cancer, smoking cigarettes has been linked to a number of negative health effects including heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis, and even fertility issues. By far one of the best ways to live a healthier and longer life is to put down those cigarettes.
2. Get Regular Exercise
Regular physical activity and exercise improves quality of life, and is important for maintaining a healthy heart, for maintaining a healthy weight and for reducing the risk of diabetes. Exercise also helps to keep your lungs healthy. Whilst physical activity in itself won’t make your lungs stronger, it will help you get more out of them.
During exercise your muscles work harder and your body uses more oxygen. To accommodate this, breathing is increased from around 15 breaths per minute to up to 40 – 60 times per minute during strenuous physical activity. Regular exercise improves your cardio-respiratory fitness making it easier for your lungs to keep your heart and muscles supplied with oxygen. Staying fit and active is particularly important for people with chronic lung disease as their lungs need all the help they can get.
3. Be Aware of the Air Quality Around You
The air that people breathe on a day to day basis has a dramatic influence on the function of their lungs. Research has shown that smog can damage the lining of the lungs and irritate and inflame pulmonary membranes. In the short term, this inflammation can lead to wheezing, coughing and chest pain whilst chronic exposure to pollution can cause respiratory diseases. Make a habit of checking the air quality index before you leave the house and plan outdoor activities accordingly, especially during the summer months when smog is traditionally more potent.
Air pollution is not just an outdoor issue however. Fireplaces, wood stoves, fumes, mould, pet dander and even particular types of air fresheners and candles can also cause problems with lung function. Although it is impossible to remove all of the particles there are steps that can be taken to help ease the problem. A three pronged approach is recommended including eliminating sources of pollution, improving ventilation and the use of air cleaners.
4. Watch What You Eat
Nutrition is an important component in overall health, but there is a significant body of evidence to suggest that particular foods are better than others for developing strong, robust lung function.
Antioxidant-rich foods including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choi and kale have been shown to be good for lungs as they absorb or attach to free radicals, preventing them from attacking normal, healthy tissue. A 2010 study found that people who consume cruciferous vegetables like those previously mentioned had almost half the risk of lung cancer compared to those who consumed the least amount of these leafy greens.
Interestingly, a University of Buffalo study conducted in 2002 found that wine drinkers had the highest levels of antioxidants in their blood and performed highest on forced-expiratory lung volume tests, a key test in testing overall lung function. So feel free to indulge in a glass or two of wine a day; it may be better for you than you thought.
5. Maintain your Overall Health
Whilst influenza is not the devastating illness that it once was, it can still cause significant health problems, especially for lung function. Cold, dry air can stress the airways, so staying illness-free is an important step in maintaining overall lung health. Immunization is a good way to help ward off the virus that causes the flu, preventing potential problems before they affect the lungs.
Other steps to avoid infection such as washing hands regularly, avoiding crowded areas like congested public transport, getting enough sleep and keeping stress levels under control are other ways to keep lungs functioning at their optimum level.
Keeping a strong, healthy set of lungs is an important component in maintaining good overall health, but by taking a few simple precautions, there’s no reason that people shouldn’t be able to enjoy healthy lung function well into old age.