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4 Easy Ways To Look After Your Lungs

  • Feb 22, 2021
  • Wellbeing

Lung Health Cutout In Doctor Hands

In the midst of a global pandemic that grew from a virus attacking the respiratory tract, there’s no wonder that the topic of respiratory wellness is trending among industry experts and consumers this year. From high-tech air purifiers to products that help boost the lung functionality, people are investing more in improving their chances of fighting off respiratory viruses such as Covid-19 or helping them recover quicker after such an illness.

However, before spending a lot of money on getting help ‘from the outside’, there are some important things anyone can do to naturally reduce their risk of respiratory diseases and help keep their lungs functioning well.

1. Quit smoking

The lungs have a system of hair-like structures that line the airways called cilia that trap unwanted particles and prevent them from getting in. When you frequently smoke, the cigarette smoke can clog them or even completely destroy them, making your airways more likely to become inflamed. When your airways are irritated or inflamed, they become narrower and thus the lungs become stiffer, making it more difficult for them to expand (taking in oxygen) and contract (squeezing out the carbon dioxide).

As a consequence, smoking causes 7 out of every 10 cases of lung cancer as well as other lung conditions such as COPDs (chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like bronchitis and emphysema) and pneumonia. When you have asthma or a respiratory system infection like the common cold or a coronavirus, smoking can make your condition even worse.

What’s more, your smoking also impacts people around you, with second-hand smokers having the same health risks as you do. Therefore, quitting smoking is not only one of the best things you can do for your lungs, but also for the health of those around you.

Giving up smoking is not easy, but you could find a lot of support to help you in your goal. Here are some self-help tips from the NHS.

2. Reduce exposure to air pollution

Your lungs can become inflamed not only from cigarette smoke, but also from other air pollutants. Here are some things you can do to help reduce your exposure to outdoor air pollution:

  • Keep an eye on the air pollution forecast and air quality in your local area when planning to exercise or do other activities outdoors.
  • Even when air quality forecasts are green, avoid exercising near high-traffic areas as pollution is higher in these areas.
  • Use hand-powered or electric garden equipment and tools rather than those with combustion engines. Household machinery such as lawn mowers and generators that are powered by fuels such as gasoline emit dangerous pollutants in the air.
  • Don’t be a part of the problem. Consider limiting activities that contribute to air pollution such as driving a car or burning wood or coal at home. Burning wood causes even more particle pollution (a mixture of solid particles such as dust, dirt, soot or smoke and liquids droplets found in air) than road traffic and is the major source of this type of pollution in the UK according to recent data.

3. Improve the air quality in your home

Indoor air pollution can be a bigger problem than you might expect, especially when we spend so much time inside. The air in our homes can be affected by factors such as domestic appliances (boilers, heaters, stoves and ovens), cleaning and personal care products, some building materials, furniture (carpets, laminate furniture) and open fire. While we can’t completely avoid polluting our homes, here are some handy tips to help you reduce your exposure to indoors pollutants:

  • Store away the cleaning products that contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as detergents, air fresheners, carpet and oven cleaners, pesticides and fungicides, paints, varnishes and glues. Some examples of VOCs are acetone, xylene and formaldehyde so read the labels of your cleaning and decorating products to check whether they contain any VOCs. VOCs evaporate into the air when we use them and even while they’re being stored. Breathing in too many VOCs can increase your risk of developing an allergy or asthma and can increase decline in lung function. Next time when you buy cleaning products, it might be worth having another look at their label and choosing the ones with low-VOC instead.
  • Some building materials can also contain VOCs. These include roofing and flooring materials, insulation, cement, paint and more. Make sure you always keep your home well-ventilated to reduce the levels of pollution coming from building materials. When thinking of your next DIY project, you might want to do a bit of extra research and consider buying materials that are low in pollutants.
  • During and after cooking or when heating your home, allow fresh air from the outside to come into the room to dilute and remove the pollutants released by cookers, heaters, stoves and open fires. Exposure to these pollutants can lead to lung and heart disease. Installing and using extractor fans over your gas stove is also a good idea.
  • Aim for a plastic-free home. Research shows that indoor air contains many microplastics coming from the plastics in our home, part of which end up in our lungs, so whenever you have a choice, swap plastic with more sustainable materials. Easy swaps include wooden or metal utensils instead of plastic utensils, glass or ceramic lunchboxes and food boxes instead of the plastic ones, beeswax cotton wraps instead of clingfilm and cotton bags instead of plastic bags.

4. Improve your lung capacity and function

Lung capacity refers to the volume of air you can breathe in and out. The larger your lung capacity, the more oxygen can enter in your body and more efficiently your lungs function. Here are some activities you can do to help improve your lung capacity and help your lungs become more efficient:

  • Exercise. While doing physical exercise, the rate and depth of your breathing increases, making your lungs stronger and more efficient over time.
  • Sing. Singing teaches you to breathe more slowly and deeply, improving the sense of control over your breathing. Singing long phrases helps you lengthen your outbreath to empty your lungs, thus improving their capacity. There are singing techniques that can help people suffering from lung conditions to manage breathlessness and clear the airways.
  • Laugh. When we laugh deeply and heartily engaging the diaphragm, our heart rate increases, helping the oxygen travel to the cells and over time, helping boost out lung capacity.
  • Practice good posture. Sitting up straight allows your lungs to expand and contract naturally, without being squeezed by unhealthy postures.
  • Engage in breathing exercises. Both diaphragmatic breathing (when you breathe through your belly) and pursed-lips breathing (when you breathe out slowly through pursed lips) may help with lung function and with maintaining and increasing lung capacity.
  • Play a wind instrument. Whether it’s a harmonica, recorder, flute, trumpet, saxophone,  trombone or just a whistle, playing a wind instrument could help you expand your lungs.

Things to keep in mind

Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, we have been more focused than ever on preventing spreading and catching respiratory infections from others through good hygiene, vaccination, wearing a face mask and keeping our distance from others. The pandemic has also made people more aware of the general respiratory health, purchasing products and services designed to help improve the function of the respiratory system. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that many things can be done without having to invest in expensive products, from quitting smoking and reducing our exposure to pollutants, to engaging in activities that improve our lungs function and capacity.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.