| 12 April 2024, Friday |

Six ways to improve lung health

Exercising, controlling weight, avoiding pollutant exposure and other strategies may help you breathe easier.

You may not be aware of it, but your lungs — like many of your organs — have some backup power to get you through situations that stress your health. This excess capacity, called physiological reserve, helps your lungs fight infection and chronic disease.

Lung reserve is strong when we’re young, but it dwindles over time as part of the natural aging process. Smoking or long-term lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, asthma or emphysema can speed up that descend. Diminished reserve makes us more vulnerable to a new or sudden lung problem.

Dr. Richard Schwartzstein, chief of the Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine Division at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center says “if you get a severe infection and start with lower lung function compared to when you were younger, you have less reserve capacity and you won’t tolerate the infection as well.”

To fight back, take steps to help maintain or improve your lung reserve and health. Here are 6 strategies that might help you out.

  1. Exercise

Moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking gets your lungs and heart pumping, making you take deep breaths. Those deep breaths open up all areas of the lungs and help in clearing out accumulated lung secretions (mucus). Dr. Schwartzstein explains that “the areas where secretions collect are good places for inhaled viruses or bacteria to settle, reproduce, and grow.”

“So the more secretions you can eliminate, the better it is for the lungs,” Dr. Schwartzstein says.

  1. Avoid pollution exposure and smoke

When you inhale toxins, the lungs produce mucus, which coats the toxins. Coughing up the mucus eliminates toxins from the lungs. But the more toxins you’re exposed to — maybe from pollution, fires or secondhand tobacco smoke — the more mucus you’ll secrete, which can make it more difficult to breathe.

If you can’t avoid pollution exposure or smoke, Dr. Schwartzstein recommends wearing a face mask. The mask can also be effective if you have allergies or asthma that can cause spasms of the airway, especially if you’re exposed to cold air.

  1. Stop smoking

There is no safe dose of smoking. Smoking even a little makes you vulnerable to infection and can lead to lung cancer.

  1. Take deep breaths

Deep breathing helps you remove secretions and expand all areas of the lungs. You can do a workout that includes deep breathing (such as yoga), or just do a deep breathing exercise. A good bonus: deep breathing helps lower your blood pressure and heart rate.

A simple deep breathing exercise: Lie down or sit in a comfortable spot. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, keep your shoulders still and allow your tummy to expand outward. Now exhale through your mouth or nose and relax your belly. Repeat for 5 minutes.

  1. Change your position

Altering your position at least once per hour is good for your lungs. Dr. Schwartzstein recommends the need to “get out of a chair and change your position — do some deep knee bends, or bend over and do some deep breathing. That will get air circulating to all regions of the lungs to clear out secretions.”

  1. Control your weight

A weight excess puts a pressure on the muscles that move the lungs, especially the diaphragm, which dilates the lungs when it moves down into your abdomen. “In people with a large abdomen, the downward motion of the diaphragm is impaired, so the lungs don’t expand as much,” according to Dr. Schwartzstein. Therefore, losing weight will reduce the work of breathing.

What about the coronavirus?

You may wonder if maximizing lung health would give you more ability to cope with the coronavirus if you happen to contract it. Dr. Schwartzstein says “we don’t have any evidence yet about specific benefits for COVID, but anything you can do to keep your lungs functioning at their best level should improve your chances of dealing with a respiratory infection like COVID.”