Without your lungs, you couldn’t breathe, and without breath, you cease to exist. The lungs are part of the respiratory system, working with other organs and tissues to help you breathe. Every cell in the body needs oxygen to live, and the lungs are what move oxygen into the bloodstream where it’s carried throughout the body when you inhale. When you exhale, the waste, in the form of carbon dioxide, is removed.
They do a lot more than that too. The lungs make up a significant part of the immune system. Infection-causing microbes and pollutants are captured by mucus and moved upward by tiny cilia so that we can cough it out. Sneezing is yet another way lungs help us to get rid of infection or pollution, and often before the invaders are able to make it past the sinuses.
All of this is what makes the lungs so important – if they aren’t in good shape, your health suffers, so, while you might take them for granted, it’s essential to do everything you can to keep your lungs in good health.
1. Practice deep breathing
Practicing deep breathing can strengthen your lungs, helping them to reach full capacity. To do so, slowly inhale while consciously expanding the belly. Next, expand your ribs and then allow your upper chest to visibly expand and left. Once you’ve fully inhaled, exhale as completely as you possibly can by allowing the chest to fall, and then contracting the ribs. Finally, bring your stomach muscles in and up, lifting the diaphragm and expelling the last breath of air. Repeat five to 10 times, and aim to practice once or twice each day.
2. Improve your posture
Posture and breathing are interconnected. Poor posture can lead to restricted, shallow breathing, and other problems, including depression. That’s because the lungs are soft structures, which means they only take up the amount of room that’s made for them. Sitting tall and reaching overhead, for example, makes more room for the lungs. If you sit down, bend over and try to breathe, you’ll see how difficult that is – it’s an example of how the muscles and tendons tend to get over restricted, causing difficulties breathing.
Every so often, try giving your lungs more room by leaning back in a sturdy chair, lifting the chest and opening the front of your body while breathing deeply. Remember that poor posture, and doing things like looking down all the time, restricts breathing and poor breathing affects everything, physically and mentally.
3. Start getting your Vitamin D
Studies have shown that those with higher levels of vitamin D have better lung functioning. Experts believe that the vitamin helps to reduce inflammation, which in turn boosts lung health. A 2014 study out of the University of London published in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine, found that taking vitamin D supplements was able to reduce COPD lung disease flare-ups by more than 40% in those who had a deficiency. COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, includes conditions like chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
At the end of the study, participants who took 100,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D every month, had improvement in respiratory muscle strength and were also able to exercise longer and more intensely as compared to those who didn’t. The recommended daily allowance of the vitamin in the U.S. is 600 IU daily for adults up to age 70 (800 for those over 70). In addition to supplements, be sure to get outside in the sun for 15 minutes a day in order for your skin to produce its own vitamin D naturally – there’s a reason it’s called the sunshine vitamin.
4. Stay hydrated
If sputum isn’t cleared from the lungs, it can cause ongoing inflammation, which may lead to further lung damage and further deterioration in lung function. For optimal lung health, the lungs should be kept as clear as possible, and water plays a big role in that (as well as our health in general).
Water keeps the blood flowing to and from the lungs, as well as keeping mucous flowing and the lungs hydrated. Staying hydrated can also help you improve oxygen levels as water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Drinking plenty of water keeps you hydrated while also increasing oxygen in the blood.
5. Reduce your sodium intake
Limiting your sodium intake can help to reduce excess fluid and bloating as well as help your lungs. Eating too much salt, including sodium that’s found (often in high amounts) in prepackaged and processed foods, fast foods and restaurants), causes the body to retain water, which makes breathing more difficult. When the lungs are able to breathe easier, that ups your oxygen levels which helps you to feel better overall.
6. Get regular exercise
Regular, moderately intense exercise is great for the lungs – it supports healthy lungs as well as a healthier heart and can put you in a better mood too. While working out in itself won’t make the lungs stronger, it will help you get more out of them, according to Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.
Edelman says that the “better your cardiorespiratory fitness, the easier it is for your lungs to keep your heart and muscles supplied with oxygen.” Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense movement every day – and, if necessary, you can break it up into increments, such as 10 minutes at a time.
7. Stop smoking
If you’re a smoker, you probably already know how bad it is for you – and when it comes to your lungs, it’s the very worst thing you can do. There is absolutely no safe threshold. The more you smoke, the greater your risk of developing serious diseases, including lung cancer and COPD. Smoking cigarettes is the major cause of both, according to The American Lung Association, as the smoke narrows air passages, making breathing more difficult and causing chronic inflammation. Over time, that smoke destroys lung tissues which can trigger changes that grow into cancer.
If you don’t smoke, try and stay away from other smokers as much as you can, as secondhand smoke is also extremely harmful to the lungs.
Looking to quit? Here’s a helping hand.
8. Eliminate household toxins and improve indoor air
Household toxins, including chemicals that are part of cleansers, detergents, bleaches and those chemically-scented air fresheners, are all harmful to your lungs, and overall health. Instead, try making some of your own homemade air fresheners. There are also plenty of chemical-free substitutes available at health food stores and markets.
You also might want to consider investing in an air purifier to remove allergens and other irritants from the air in your home. Adding indoor plants not only add life to your living space but remove toxins as well. Replacing carpeting with other flooring, or vacuuming and steam cleaning carpets frequently can also help. Also, consider investing in a Himalayan salt lamp.
9. Maintain a desirable weight
Weight plays a significant part in everyone’s health, including lung health. If you’re overweight, the workload on your heart increases, which makes it more challenging for oxygen to be delivered to the rest of your body, and, excess fat in the abdominal area in particular can place pressure on your diaphragm, which makes it more difficult to breathe.
10. Don’t forget to laugh
It’s no joke, laughing is actually great exercise for the lungs. It increases lung capacity and works the abdominal muscles too. It also helps to clear out the lungs by forcing out stale air so that fresh air is able to entire more areas of the lungs.
11. Follow a proper diet, including foods that promote lung health
A healthy diet is a must for overall health, including the health of the lungs. These foods are some of the best to incorporate for lung health:
Cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables are simply any food that’s a member of the cabbage family, including cauliflower, kale, broccoli, and, of course, cabbage. These foods are loaded with chlorophyll and powerful antioxidants that naturally help the body rid itself of toxins. They’ve also been shown in scientific studies to stop the progression of lung cancer and reduce the risk of developing lung cancer in half.
Bright orange and red veggies. Those brightly colored orange and red veggies like carrots are filled with carotenoids, an orange antioxidant pigment that’s known to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Carrots in particular are extra beneficial due to their high beta carotene count. Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A which can help decrease asthma attacks. Carrots are also rich in lycopene, which lowers the risk of developing lung disease.
Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for health. A diet high in omega-3s reduces inflammation in the body, which is important for maintaining good lung health, and it’s also a key component in asthma. One ongoing study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center released early data showing that omega-3s offer anti-inflammatory effects on human lung cells, and can stop cigarette smoke-induced lung damage in disease models. They believe that future studies, taking place over the next several years, will demonstrate that omega-3s can be used to prevent inflammation and speed the repair of lung injury from short- and long-term cigarette use. Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods include things like wild-caught salmon, coconut oil, nuts, and flaxseed.
12. Spice up your meals
There are a number of herbs and spices that can improve lung health as well. Use as many of them as you can in your meals to flavor things up and get your lungs functioning at their best.
Turmeric. One of nature’s most powerful healers, turmeric contains an active compound known as curcumin that offers powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It works to protect the body from free radical cells and destroy mutated cancer cells, preventing them from spreading throughout the body. Research has found that consuming turmeric on a regular basis could prevent or reduce symptoms in lung conditions like COPD, asthma, emphysema, pneumonia and lung fibrosis caused by radiation.
Ginger. This wonderful spice is easy to incorporate into lots of dishes, and you can always toss some fresh ginger root into a homemade smoothie too. It offers anti-inflammatory properties that help to clear the air passages of pollutants and other irritants before they have time to reach the lungs. It can also help relieve congestion, and improve circulation to the lung, reducing symptoms of many chronic lung diseases like bronchitis.
Garlic. A 2013 study conducted by researchers at China’s Jiangusu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found that adults who regularly consumed garlic were significantly less likely to develop lung cancer. The researchers determined that garlic, consumed just two times a week, could potentially cut the risk of developing lung cancer in half.
“Protective association between intake of raw garlic and lung cancer has been observed with a dose-response pattern, suggesting that garlic may potentially serve as a chemopreventive agent for lung cancer,” the researchers wrote, noting that adults who habitually consumed the herb were 44 percent less likely to suffer the disease.
Previous research has shown that raw garlic is a potent antioxidant with the capability of decreasing inflammation and reducing damage caused by free radicals, thanks to its pungent chemical known as allicin. Allicin is released when garlic cloves are crushed – that same substance is also renowned for its antibiotic properties and even has the ability to fight infection. Besides reducing the risk of lung cancer, it’s also believed to help strengthen the body’s defense against the common cold and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.