8 Tips for Improving Your Lung Health
For most of us, breathing is such a routine task, we rarely have to think about it. To keep it that way, consider incorporating some of these tips into your everyday routine.
by Nicole Jennings
While it can be a challenge, it’s not a revolutionary idea. Cigarette companies are even required to put one of four rotating warnings like this on the label of their products: “Surgeon General’s Warning: Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.”
Cigarettes are the leading cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Along with other forms of tobacco, cigarettes kill up to half of users. That’s more than 8 million people every year.
Since quitting cold turkey can be challenging, look for smoking cessation programs around town that can help.
…and Avoid Secondhand Smoke
This one is a bit trickier. It’s a lot easier to control your own decisions than someone else’s. In fact, only 20% of the entire world’s population are shielded by smoke-free laws. Remember those 8 million annual tobacco-related deaths? According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 million of those are actually non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke.
“Secondhand smoke exposure has been shown to have the greatest impact on children,” explains Dr. Ethan Rutledge, a pulmonologist with Blue Ridge Pulmonology.
In fact, 65,000 children die each year from illnesses related to secondhand smoke inhalation. “Beyond that, secondhand smoke is a risk factor and predictor of adolescent smoking initiation,” warns Dr. Rutledge.
If someone you know chooses to smoke around you, tell them how it makes you feel, and ask them to find somewhere else to smoke.
Protect Against Germs
Cold and flu season is an obvious time to be vigilant, but you’re susceptible to germs year-round. Rather than taking a chance, take proper precautions.After all, a small infection can turn into a serious respiratory issue faster than you realize.
Washing your hands frequently with soap and hot water goes a long way. If that’s not possible, use hand sanitizer. And here’s the biggie: If you’re sick, quarantine yourself! Get some rest and don’t expose others to your germs. “Some microbes can survive up to 45 minutes in the air and spread disease,” says Dr. Geraldo Holguin, a pulmonologist with the CHI Memorial Buz Standefer Lung Center. “The speed of a sneeze can reach 100 miles per hour and spread up to five feet from you!”
Whether or not you engage in regular exercise, you’re probably aware that physical activity is crucial for maintaining your health and fitness. In fact, experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly. But did you know it strengthens your lungs too? “Exercise can be very helpful in improving the cardiovascular fitness of patients, but it also serves to strengthen the respiratory muscles, which may improve lung function,” says Dr. Rutledge.
When your lungs are at rest, and even during most normal daily activities, you’re only using them at about half their capacity. To get your lungs functioning more fully, you need to really get moving! This helps curb the buildup of toxins in the lungs caused by pollution, allergens, and cigarette smoke. Running, biking, and swimming are all great ways to exercise your lungs.
Test for Radon
Radon is a naturally occurring, colorless, tasteless, scentless gas. When uranium, naturally found in the ground, breaks down, it forms radium, which then turns into radon gas. This gas can seep into your home through cracks and other openings. As it decays, radon releases radioactive particles that can be inhaled and cause lung cancer.
“Radon is harmless at low concentrations, but when it is concentrated in homes or buildings, it can be harmful to your lungs,” explains Dr. Holguin. “It has been identified as the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking, and the only way to know if it is present in your home is to test for it.”
The Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation will send you a free test kit if you register online at https://tdec.tn.gov. You can also purchase test kits or radon detectors at home improvement stores like Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, or Home Depot.
Protect Yourself Against Outdoor Air Pollution
Outdoor air quality varies daily due to many factors including climate change, natural disasters, activities like brush and waste burning, and vehicle emissions. Sometimes, the air quality can be so poor it’s not healthy, especially for those already suffering from respiratory issues. On bad quality air days, it’s best to limit your outdoor exposure. You can check the air quality in your area on any given day by visiting airnow.gov.
“Our lungs are exposed to everything in the air we breathe. Sometimes we inhale particles and compounds in the air that are so small they can bypass our lungs’ defense mechanisms and get trapped inside, causing damage,” explains Dr. Holguin. To avoid these effects, wear a mask when working with chemicals or when you can see particles in the air.
You can also reduce your own pollution by carpooling, combining errands into one trip, using public transit, and walking or riding a bicycle to work.
Practice Deep Breathing
Studies show that practicing deep breathing techniques and diaphragmatic breathing can help increase your lung capacity, lower your blood pressure, and even reduce stress.
Short, shallow, and even normal breaths come from your chest. When you take a deep breath, it engages your diaphragm, the muscle that separates your chest and abdomen.
To try it, lie flat, bend your knees, and relax your head, neck, and shoulders. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach below your ribs. Slowly, breathe in through your nose, letting the air in, sending it toward your belly. The hand on your chest should stay still, while the hand on your belly should rise. Tighten your ab muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through your mouth. The hand on your stomach should return to its original position. You can practice this method multiple times a day, for five to 10 minutes each time.
Get Regular Lung Screenings
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual lung cancer screening if you’re at risk for developing the disease but aren’t showing symptoms. At-risk individuals include those between the ages of 55 and 80 who have a history of heavy smoking and either are a current smoker or have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
If these criteria apply to you, visit with your doctor. A CT (computerized tomography) scan is the only recommended lung cancer screening method. It uses low doses of radiation to create detailed images of your lungs. “The goal with low-dose CT screening is to hopefully identify lung cancer at an early stage so that a curative surgery or intervention is possible,” explains Dr. Rutledge. An annual screening is not for everyone because it comes with some additional risks of its own.
If you’re concerned about your lung health, reduce your exposure to outdoor air pollution, take some diaphragmatic breaths, and schedule an appointment
with your physician. HS