Breathe Easier: Knowing How to Keep and Maintain Healthy Lungs
October is designated as Healthy Lung Month. It’s an annual time to stop and think about your lungs, but you shouldn’t be limited to thinking about them only at this time of the year. Why is keeping and maintaining your healthy lungs so important?
Well, your lungs, like other parts of your body, lose their strength and flexibility as you age. And having your lungs diminish their ability to function at an optimal level may make it harder to breathe. That’s because their primary function in the respiratory system is to extract oxygen from the atmosphere. Then, they transfer the oxygen into the bloodstream and release carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere (i.e., the process of gas exchange).
The lungs have other functions in addition to respiration. They help with maintaining homeostasis, the regulation of blood pressure, and also provide airflow that makes vocal sounds possible including human speech. They have a protective role in filtering out small blood clots from your veins, as well, and preventing them from entering your arteries and causing a stroke. Healthy lungs also help the major organs of your body function well. Besides all of these aspects, your lungs help you to live a full, active life.
Let’s first look at some key warning signs that your lungs may not be functioning up to their ability and how medical personnel test for lung functioning. Then, this article will move toward sharing some actions to reduce lung irritants (indoors) along with outlining a list of healthy habits that can be incorporated into your lifestyle to help your lungs maintain their health.
Pay attention to warning signs indicative of possible lung “problems”
Early detection of any potential lung “problems” is crucial as lung diseases such as COPD, asthma, emphysema, and lung cancer are quite serious and can be life-threatening. Other common harmful respiratory diseases include pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. It is always advisable to consult with your doctor if you should experience and have concerns over any of the following warning signs:
- Chronic chest pain or cough
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty with breathing/shortness of breath for an extended time
- Heavy, long-lasting mucus production (i.e., usually longer than a month)
How do medical personnel test lung functioning?
Lung function testing centers around evaluating a person’s capacity to inhale and exhale in various circumstances. The total lung capacity is impacted by a person’s age, weight, height, and sex.
Males have approximately a ¼ higher capacity than females. Taller individuals and those who are thinner framed have a higher lung capacity as well, whereas smokers tend to have a lower capacity. Physical training can almost double one’s lung capacity while exposure to air pollution can hinder it.
There are other lung function tests that are routinely administered. One such test measures the lung’s diffusing capacity: the transfer of gas from the air to the blood in the lung capillaries. Yet another includes spirometry which measures the volume and flow of air that is exhaled and inhaled in one second and then in total. This ratio from the spirometry test can help determine if the lung disease is restrictive or obstructive.
So, what can you do to keep your lungs healthy?
What to do to reduce lung irritants (indoors)
- A vacuum − use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to reduce natural allergens, chemical build-up, and lead in your home
- Plants − add plants to help clean the air naturally (e.g., aloe vera and spider plants are two highly recommended plants to help remove typical toxins in the air such as xylene, toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde)
- Fragrance-free household products and those made with strong chemicals − choose fragrance-free air fresheners, laundry detergents, and cleaning products as the fragrance varieties are more apt to damage your lungs; likewise, avoid or reduce using products and/or the number of products made with strong chemicals for household cleaning (e.g., bleach or ammonia)
- Radon testing − have your home tested for radon, a colorless, odorless gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer
- Housecleaning − keep a clean house void of pet dander, dust, and mold – all lung irritants; take time to vacuum and dust every week
- A smoke-free environment − designate your home and yard as smoke-free
- Air ventilation − increase the indoor air ventilation by frequently opening windows; install adequate ventilation methods (e.g., fans, exhaust hoods) in designated areas of your house like the kitchen and bathrooms
Healthy habits to incorporate into your lifestyle
- Don’t smoke − quit smoking to avoid the inhaling of chemicals (nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar) into your lungs which narrows your airways, irritates your tissues, and makes it more difficult for your lungs to clean themselves, to breathe easily, and to age naturally
- Exercise − get regular exercise specially cardio exercise to keep your lungs in shape; your heart will beat faster and your lungs will work harder to make them more efficient so you can better resist the onset of disease and aging
- Avoid pollutants − limit the exposure to pollutants (secondhand smoke, air pollution, exhaust fumes from vehicles, and airborne pollutants when you are up and about, etc.)
- Wash your hands − keep your hands clean by routinely washing them in warm water and soap to prevent infections; try to refrain from touching your face with your hands as much as possible
- Eat healthy, nutritious foods and drink a sufficient amount of water each day − eat a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables (i.e., the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines recommend adults eat between 5-7 servings per day depending on age, gender, physical activity, and overall health) and drink plenty of water (approximately 64 ounces a day) to boost your immune system with the necessary nutrients these foods supply
- Keep your shots/vaccinations up to date − get a yearly flu shot and pneumonia vaccination; follow the advice of medical personnel for other recommended shots/vaccinations for your age group
- Breathe deeply – be mindful of breathing deeply through your nose and out through your mouth for a few minutes/several times a day to create a full oxygen exchange and to clear your lungs; consider practicing yoga or meditation to be more cognizant of how you breathe and to offer a structured time to practice deep breathing
Any time of the year is always a good time to be conscious of your lungs and your health. Knowing some typical warning signs that indicate your lungs may need medical attention is helpful as early detection of any “problems” is vital. Medical personnel testing often includes testing for lung functioning to determine any lung disease. There are several common-sense actions to help reduce lung irritants. Also, there are healthy habits that can easily be incorporated into your lifestyle to help maintain your lung health. Hopefully, this article will help you breathe easier now as you know more about your lungs.
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