You’ve probably thought more about your lungs this past year than you usually do. A worldwide pandemic of a respiratory virus combined with record wildfires and the toxic smoke that accompanies them has made 2020 a bad year for lung health. Now, as we enter the flu season, it’s more important than ever to make respiratory health a priority. Your respiratory system includes your airways, lungs, blood vessels, and your diaphragm (the muscle that supports your lungs). It is especially vulnerable because your lungs’ delicate tissues are in direct contact with everything you breathe in. Here are four ways to protect this vital system:
1. Avoid Indoor and Outdoor Pollution
Indoor pollution, such as tobacco smoke, wreaks havoc on the lungs. It doesn’t matter if you are the person smoking or if you are breathing second-hand smoke; the damage is very similar. Smoking not only puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, it also increases your risk of severe infection or death from respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and the flu. Second-hand smoke carries many of the same risks. People who are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke are 20-30% more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than other non-smokers. Children and infants exposed to second-hand smoke are more prone to asthma, respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Several organizations offer support and advice for smokers who want to quit. You can call 1-800-quit-now to get help in your state. You can also talk to your doctor about medication and therapies that may make quitting easier. Now is a great time to take this major step towards better lung health for yourself and your loved ones.
Outdoor pollution from exhaust, wildfires, and other sources can also harm lung health and make you more prone to lung infections, asthma attacks, and even chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Most weather apps have an air quality report where you can easily check on your area’s air quality. If your air quality is considered dangerous, try to stay indoors with windows closed as much as possible. Consider wearing an M-95 mask if you must go outside during dangerous air days, but note that it is not a substitute for staying indoors. Ensure the filter on your HVAC system is changed out regularly and turn the fan on when the air outside is bad. This will help to circulate the air in your home through the filter and keep it clean. You can also invest in an air purifier. These are recommended for people who suffer from chronic lung conditions or have severe allergies.
Breathing clean air is the first step towards keeping your lungs healthy.
2. Stay Active
Exercise is good for every body system, including your lungs. Aerobic exercise conditions both your lungs and your heart, helping them work more efficiently. Talk to your doctor about what type of exercise program is right for you. Start slow if you’ve been sedentary for a while and work your way up to about 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise per week. Consider aerobic activities such as jogging, swimming, or any other activity that gets your heart rate up. Even walking can help improve lung and heart health.
People with severe asthma or COPD can safely exercise their diaphragm by practicing diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly breathing. This is easy to do. Lie down on your back and place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Slowly breathe in through your nose, allowing your stomach to rise and push against your hand. Your chest should remain still. Purse your lips and breath out through them slowly. Your belly should fall. Tighten your abdominal muscles and try to bring your belly button towards your spine. Repeat this breathing process several times regularly. Of course, you should always consult your doctor before trying this or any exercise program, especially if you have a chronic health condition.
Exercise can minimize the stress associated with quitting smoking and make it easier for you to quit. You’ll also be helping your lungs to recover. If your air outside is unhealthy, you can exercise indoors using weights, stairs, or no equipment at all. Try running in place or doing jumping jacks. Whatever exercise you do, you’ll be doing your lungs a favor.
3. Avoid Contagious Illness
We know it’s getting old, but social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand-washing are good practices for avoiding Covid-19 and avoiding the flu. A severe infection from either of these illnesses can cause long-term lung damage and complications. Getting your flu shot is the best way to avoid getting and spreading the flu this year.
Pneumonia is another serious lung infection that can cause damage and even death. There is a vaccine available that will protect you against the most common pathogens that cause pneumonia. This vaccine is recommended for children younger than two and adults older than 65. People with certain medical conditions may also need this vaccine regardless of their age. Talk to your doctor and find out which vaccines are right for you. If you live in an area where tuberculosis is common, you should consider getting tested. Some strains of TB are curable with antibiotics.
Nutrition is vital to immune health. Try to eat at least three fruits and vegetables a day and avoid excess sugar and refined foods. Low vitamin D levels can make you more susceptible to illness. Your doctor can check to see if you are getting enough vitamin D and prescribe a supplement if you need one.
4. Take Care of your Nervous System
Take a deep breath, now breathe out. Feel more relaxed? That’s because your respiratory system is directly connected to your nervous system. This connection is a two-way street. Your nervous system tells your lungs when to inhale and exhale, and it takes cues from how you are breathing. If you breathe deep and slow, this signals your nervous system to calm down, whereas quick, shallow breathing can make you feel more anxious.
Your spinal cord is housed in the bones of your spine, called your vertebrae. If these vertebrae are out of alignment, your nervous system and all the systems it controls can be affected. Studies have shown that people who have an over-curve in the spine of their upper back can suffer breathing problems as a result. Visiting a chiropractor regularly can help to keep your spine and your spinal cord working properly. Many patients with allergies, asthma, and other lung health issues have found relief through chiropractic care. Chiropractic adjustment has also been proven to strengthen the immune system, so getting adjusted during the flu season can help you avoid a nasty infection.