Most people want to get healthier. Rarely, though, do they think about protecting and maintaining the health of their lungs.
It’s time to change that. SourceChronic lower respiratory diseases — including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma — were the third leading cause of death in 2010. Lung diseases, excluding lung cancer, caused an estimated 235,000 deaths that year.
The truth is that your lungs, just like your heart, joints, and other parts of your body, age with time. They can become less flexible and lose their strength, which can make it more difficult to breathe. But by adopting certain healthy habits, you can better maintain the health of your lungs, and keep them working optimally even into your senior years.
1. Don’t smoke or stop smoking
You probably already know that smoking increases your risk of lung cancer. But that’s not the only disease it can cause. In fact, smoking is linked to most lung diseases, including COPD, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and asthma. It also makes those diseases more severe.
Every time you smoke a cigarette, you inhale thousands of chemicals into your lungs, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. These toxins damage your lungs. They increase mucus, make it more difficult for your lungs to clean themselves, and irritate and inflame tissues. Gradually, your airways narrow, making it more difficult to breathe.
Smoking also causes lungs to age more rapidly. Eventually, the chemicals can change lung cells from normal to cancerous.
2. Exercise to breathe harder
Besides avoiding cigarettes, getting regular exercise is probably the most important thing you can do for the health of your lungs. Just as exercise keeps your body in shape, it keeps your lungs in shape too.
When you exercise, your heart beats faster and your lungs work harder. Your body needs more oxygen to fuel your muscles. Your lungs step up their activity to deliver that oxygen while expelling additional carbon dioxide.
3. Avoid exposure to pollutants
Exposure to pollutants in the air can damage your lungs and accelerate aging. When they’re young and strong, your lungs can easily resist these toxins. As you get older, though, they lose some of that resistance and become more vulnerable to infections and disease.
Give your lungs a break. Reduce your exposure as much as you can:
Avoid secondhand smoke, and try not to go outside during peak air pollution times.
Avoid exercising near heavy traffic, as you can inhale the exhaust.
If you’re exposed to pollutants at work, be sure to take all possible safety precautions. Certain jobs in construction, mining, and waste management can increase risk of exposure to airborne pollutants.
Here are some tips for decreasing indoor pollutants:
Make your home a smoke-free zone.
Dust the furniture and vacuum at least once a week.
Open a window frequently to increase indoor air ventilation.
Avoid synthetic air fresheners and candles that can expose you to additional chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene. Instead, use an aromatherapy diffuser and essential oils to more naturally scent the air.
Keep your home as clean as you can. Mold, dust, and pet dander can all get into your lungs and cause irritation.
Use natural cleaning products when possible, and open a window when using products that create fumes.
Make sure you have adequate fans, exhaust hoods, and other ventilation methods throughout your home.
4. Prevent infections
Infections can be particularly dangerous for your lungs, especially as you age. Those who already have lung diseases like COPD are particularly at risk for infections. Even healthy seniors, though, can easily develop pneumonia if they’re not careful.
The best way to avoid lung infections is to keep your hands clean. Wash regularly with warm water and soap, and avoid touching your face as much as possible. Drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables as they contain nutrients that help boost your immune system.
5. Breathe deeply
If you’re like many people, you take shallow breaths from your chest area, using only a small portion of your lungs. Deep breathing helps clear the lungs and creates a full oxygen exchange.