The importance of lungs is often not considered, at least not till any problem is experienced in breathing. And even though everyone wants to lead a healthy lifestyle and stay fit and healthy, not much thought is given to maintain the health of the lungs.
The main function of the lungs is to provide oxygen to capillaries so that the blood can be oxygenated. As the lungs expand, the air is sucked in for oxygen, and as they compress, the carbon dioxide is released during exhalation.
Lungs are not only one of the most important organs of the body, but they are also even the most active ones. The lungs never rest. In just one day, a healthy person breathes nearly 25,000 times.
Common Lung Diseases
The body has a natural defense system that is designed to protect the lungs and it works very well most of the time by keeping out dirt and fighting off germs. However, several harmful substances can damage the airways and threaten the lungs’ ability to work properly, which can lead to lung disease.
Some common lung diseases include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, lung cancer and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
People with lung disease have difficulty breathing and some diseases can even lead to respiratory failure.
The primary causal factor that is responsible for at least 30% of all cancer deaths, nearly 80% of deaths caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and for early cardiovascular disease and deaths is smoking.
There a number of things you can do to help your lungs function properly like simple lifestyle changes, dietary changes and healthy habits that would be highly beneficial for your lungs.
Simple Ways to Keep Your Lungs Strong and Healthy
Here are some tips to keep your lungs stronger for longer.
1. Quit Smoking
If you smoke, then it is time to quit the habit, so as to improve the condition of your lungs. Cigarette smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals, some of which can cause health problems. In fact, smoking is the major cause of serious lung diseases like lung cancer and COPD.
In fact, prenatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is related to impaired lung function and increased risk of asthma development in children.
Further, postnatal exposure has been found to act as a trigger from respiratory symptoms and asthma. In adults, exposure to environmental tobacco smoke leads to asthma, impairment of lung function, increased bronchial sensitivity.
Cigarette smoke narrows the air passages and thereby, makes breathing more difficult. It causes chronic inflammation or swelling in the lungs. With time, cigarette smoke can destroy lung tissues, which in turn increases your risk of lung cancer.
If you suffer from any kind of lung disease, giving up smoking can help manage your condition and improve your quality of life.
Be determined to quit smoking and get help from professionals, if needed.
2. Avoid Secondhand Smoke
Non-smokers must avoid exposure to secondhand smoke to improve the condition of their lungs. Secondhand smoke is highly toxic and can cause significant harm to your lungs and your overall health.
Here are some things you can do to avoid secondhand smoke:
- Do not allow other people to smoke in your home, car or workplace.
- Support businesses and activities that are smoke-free.
- Avoid public places that permit smoking.
- Stay at smoke-free hotels when traveling to avoid residual smoke from previous patrons.
3. Limit Your Exposure to Pollutants
In addition to cigarette smoke, there are various other pollutants present in the air that are harmful to your lungs as well as overall health. Even the synthetic fragrances used in various laundry products and air fresheners emit toxic chemicals.
- Avoid highly polluted and industrialized areas.
- Do your bit to minimize outdoor pollution and help create a cleaner environment. For example, whenever possible, walk or ride your bicycle instead of driving.
- When building or remodeling your house, opt for eco-friendly options like formaldehyde-free cabinetry, linoleum instead of vinyl flooring, low or no VOC paints, etc.
4. Improve Indoor Air
In a late 1980s NASA study, it was found that several houseplants act as natural air purifiers as they filter out common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.
Use at least 2 houseplants per 100 square feet of space. These plants should be in 10- to 12-inch pots.
- Get indoor plants such as a fern, spider plant, peace lily, bamboo palm, aloe vera, English Ivy, dracaena, and others. Make sure to keep the foliage dust-free. Also, do not overwater the plants as it may lead to mold growth.
- Minimize the use of harsh cleaners and cleaners with strong fragrances.
- Avoid using aerosol sprays.
- Ensure adequate ventilation.
5. Do Deep Breathing Exercises Daily
Breathing helps the oxygen present in the air to reach the cells in the body by way of inhaling the air. Insufficient oxygen often makes people more prone to lung problems or even heart diseases.
You can easily strengthen your lungs with regular deep breathing exercises. It can also help clear out toxins that may have built up in the lungs. This, in turn, helps improve lung performance and clear airways.
- Sit in a relaxing and quiet place.
- Close your eyes, and breathe in deeply through your nose.
- Count to five, slowly inhaling the entire time.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly.
- Repeat this breathing exercise 6 to 8 times.
- Perform this deep breathing exercise on a daily basis to help cleanse your lungs and keep you stress-free.
If you are not able to master the art of deep breathing, join a breathing club where people with lung and breathing problems can learn about this technique.
6. Eat the Right Foods
The right mix of nutrients in your diet can help with healthy lung functions and cleanse your lungs of harmful toxins.
- Include detoxifying and antioxidant-rich foods and herbs like garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, ginger, oregano, turmeric, pomegranates, apples, grapefruit, green tea, peppermint, lungwort, chaparral and lobelia in your diet.
- Include good sources of protein like milk, cheese, fish, nuts and poultry in your diet to help maintain strong respiratory muscles.
- Eat folate-rich foods like lentils and black beans to protect your lungs from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Breathlessness due to COPD is often associated with low intake of folate.
- Choose complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain bread and pasta, fresh fruit and vegetables. At the same time, limit simple carbohydrates, including table sugar, candy, cake and regular soft drinks.
- Opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that do not contain cholesterol. Limit foods that contain trans-fat and saturated fat.
7. Be Active with Regular Exercise
Exercising is a great way to increase lung capacity. With regular exercise, it will be easier for your lungs to keep your heart and muscles well supplied with oxygen. This, in turn, will help you enjoy a healthier heart and a better mood.
- Perform rigorous cardiovascular activities for at least 20 minutes, 5 days a week. Cardiovascular exercises strengthen the muscles that surround your lungs.
- Try aerobic exercises, such as walking, dancing or biking, a few days a week. Due to the short bursts of intense training during aerobic exercises, your lung capacity will develop a lot.
- Swim for 30 minutes, a few times a week.
If you are just starting to exercise, consult a trainer to find out which type of exercises are best for your current condition. Also, remember that during exercise you take deeper and more frequent breaths. So, do not exercise outdoors during rush hour.
8. Get Regular Health Checkups
Another way to ensure healthy lungs and their normal functioning is regular health checkups. Because most lung diseases go undetected until they are serious. However, during a health checkup, doctors can easily examine the condition of your lungs and pick up any trouble signs early.
Always consult a doctor if you experience symptoms of lung problems, such as shortness of breath during simple activities, pain when breathing, dizziness with a change in activity, or a persistent cough.
Take any medicines prescribed by your doctors timely and do not stop your medications on your own, as it can lead to serious consequences.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Jeremy Feldman MD, FCCP (Pulmonologist)
Is it possible to reverse the lung damage caused by smoking once we quit?
Smoking causes a variety of problems inside the lungs.
- Emphysema: This is not reversible
- Chronic bronchitis: Although not fully reversible this can improve dramatically once you stop smoking
- Irritant asthma/bronchitis: This can improve greatly when you stop smoking
- Irritant cough (smokers cough): This usually resolves within 8 weeks of quitting smoking
- Lung cancer risk: This decreases over time and becomes substantially low 10 years after quitting
Which vitamins are good for lung health?
I don’t recommend any specific vitamins for general lung health. Since there is a high incidence of Vitamin D deficiency, I advise getting your vitamin D levels checked and taking a supplement if they are found to be low. As for patients with normal blood levels of vitamin D, extra supplementation will offer no added benefits.
Is lemon good for lung health?
Not particularly, nor is it harmful.
Which foods are bad for the lungs?
Avoid carbonated beverages such as sodas and excessive amounts of caffeine, while keeping a check on your sugar, salt and fat intake. An overall healthy and balanced diet which includes a variety of foods is recommended for keeping your body and lungs in good shape.
What is the best way to reduce lung inflammation?
The primary steps towards reducing lung inflammation include:
- quit smoking
- maintain a healthy weight
- exercise regularly
Are lungs capable of self-cleaning?
Yes, lungs are essentially self-cleaning organs but smoking and poor air quality tend to hamper this process.
How can one remove the mucus build up from the lungs?
A good strategy is to expel any respiratory secretions by coughing them up. Moreover, you must avoid exposure to poor air quality to prevent further buildup of mucus.
What is the best exercise for increasing lung capacity?
Different forms of aerobic exercises, whether it be walking, jogging, or swimming, are all good for building your lung capacity.
Is coffee good for the lungs?
Caffeine in coffee is a major cause of gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD). GERD can lead to cough. If patients don’t have problem with GERD and cough then coffee in moderation is fine. If patients have GERD then they should avoid coffee and tea.
Please provide some additional tips or inputs to help our readers improve their lung health.
Obesity is one of the many threats to good lung health. If you wish to improve your lung health, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight will provide a good start to your efforts.
About Jeremy Feldman MD, FCCP: Dr. Feldman is a board-certified pulmonary and critical care specialist with special emphasis on advanced lung diseases.
Jeremy is the Director of one of America’s largest pulmonary hypertension programs and heads a busy clinical research program. He has written extensively on the topics of pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary fibrosis, and if you wish to learn more, visit: pulmonaryfibrosismd.com and pulmonaryhypertensionrn.com
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