With the cold and flu season quickly approaching, now is the time to focus on improving immunity. A large part of this comes down to improving your lung health.
Your lungs are part of the frontline of your immune system. Not only are the lungs a primary target for pathogens, but they also provide oxygen to the body for increased energy and harbor important immune cells.
One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear about improving lung health is to quit smoking. Yet, there’s much more to lung health than this simple tidbit. So, let’s get straight to it. What’s the deal with lung health? Why exactly is it so important? How do you know the state of your lung health? And what can you do to improve it?
What is Lung Health?
Most individuals don’t think too much about their lung health until it becomes a problem. You experience trouble breathing, and so you try to combat this in various ways.
Yet, paying attention to your lung health before it becomes an issue is essential for your overall health. Lung health refers to the ability of your lungs to provide oxygen to your body and remove carbon dioxide. This is necessary for the creation of energy and helps the body avoid a toxin overload.
Why You Want Healthy Lungs
When your lung health suffers, so does your quality of life, your overall health, and even your longevity. Every day, your lungs are exposed to various microbes and particles. Yet it doesn’t make us perpetually sick. So, what’s going on?
Bigger particles that enter through the nose or mouth are usually caught by innate reflexes, like coughing or sneezing. A little further down the respiratory tract, other foreign particles are caught within the mucociliary surface and moved upward and out. Within this mucus layer exist proteins and other components that identify bacterial particles, helping other immune cells to recognize and destroy foreign invaders.
The immune defense in your respiratory tract doesn’t stop here. The lungs themselves are also equipped with immune cells. The lungs contain alveoli where the majority of gas exchange occurs. These alveoli are home to alveolar macrophages.
Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that detects and destroys unwanted particles or bacteria. When a greater threat is detected, these macrophages also recruit other immune cells such as cytokines and chemokines. These cells all work together to prevent you from getting seriously ill.
If these foreign particles and bacteria were able to get into the bloodstream through the lungs, you would end up feeling pretty lousy. You could even end up fighting for your life. At the end of the day, keeping your lung health in tip-top shape ensures these systems function at their very best, maintaining your overall health and quality of life.
How to Check Lung Health
If you’re not sure where your lung health stands, checking it is a great starting point. In fact, doctors will usually have individuals with chronic respiratory disorders or conditions, such as asthma and COPD, check their lungs regularly. This check involves the use of an affordable and portable device called a peak flow meter.
A peak flow meter measures airflow in and out of the lungs. Basically, holding the device, you blow as much air into it as you can. This shows your airflow rate. For men, an average reading is 600 liters per minute. For women, an average reading is 370 liters per minute. Yet, it’s important to remember that this reading varies based on age, weight, height, sex, race, and other factors.
How to Increase Lung Health
So, what is good for lung health? What can you do to proactively maintain or improve yours? Let’s take a look.
1. Practice Breathwork
Breathwork is conscious breathing. For example, yoga and meditation include breathwork as part of their practices. A regular breathwork practice can help reduce pain, decrease stress, boost immunity, and enhance overall happiness. The other good news is that there are various types of breathwork, meaning you can easily find one that works best for you.
Some breathwork options include:
- Nadi Shodhana
- Buteyko Breathing Method
- Box Breathing
- 4-7-8 Technique
- Wim Hof Method
Research shows how breathwork techniques improve pulmonary function as well as respiratory muscle strength. At the same time, you want to make sure you’re breathing correctly while performing these techniques, which leads us right into our next tip.
2. Change How You Breathe
Many individuals develop poor breathing habits during early childhood. Usually, this means shallow breathing where the breath is pulled into the chest cavity. Others might also develop a habit of breathing through their mouth as opposed to their nose. This is well-known to increase stress throughout the body.
Nasal and deep breathing, on the other hand, offer far more benefits. This involves inhaling and exhaling through the nose. When you inhale, the chest, diaphragm, ribcage, and belly all expand. As you exhale, these areas of the body, then, slowly deflate. This encourages proper function of your lungs, as well as maintains and improves lung capacity.
Nasal breathing also helps filter dust, allergens, and debris from the air. Meanwhile, mouth breathing increases your susceptibility to oral health issues, such as bad breath and gum inflammation. So, practice nasal and deep belly breaths. This was how the body was made to function!
3. Purify the Air You Breathe
Even healthy lungs can only do so much. Air quality matters too. While you might not be able to control the air quality in the city you live in, you can control the air quality within your own home.
This might involve really simple changes, such as ensuring your air filter is clean, regular checking of your air ducts, and keeping your home relatively clean and free from dust. Another obvious way to ensure your at-home air is adequate is by not smoking indoors (and not smoking in general).
In the 1989 NASA Clean Air Study, experts examined how certain plants clean and filter the air. For example, English Ivy was discovered to filter benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene from the air. For each plant, the specific amount of chemicals filtered from the air varied. However, this is great news for indoor plant enthusiasts.
All in all, there are various ways you can work on filtering the air in your home, some of which you might be already doing.
4. Use Lung Strengthening Devices
There are countless lung strengthening devices on the market that can help improve your lung function and capacity. One example is PowerLung, a handheld device that increases lung capacity and muscle function. It even has different resistance levels so that you can improve incrementally.
Additionally, there are many strengthening exercises you can utilize to improve lung health. For instance, studies show that interval training, or HIIT, can have a positive impact on lung function and endurance.
5. Incorporate Supplements and Food for Lung Health
Obtaining proper nutrients and fuel from a well-balanced diet is essential for overall good health. In addition to this, studies show that vitamin D, in particular, can help improve respiratory health. Research has also indicated vitamin C to be protective against COPD.
Further research shows the following compounds, foods, and nutrients to help improve lung health:
At the same time, variety and moderation are key in any diet to ensure you’re getting the variety of nutrients your body needs.
Use the above tips to help improve your lung health and function. In turn, you may improve your immune function, stopping colds and flus in their tracks.
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*Disclaimer: The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products or treatments mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult a licensed medical practitioner for medical advice.
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