Five simple changes to make to improve your lung health including posture and nutrition
Given they’re hard at work 24/7, there’s a lot to love about your lungs. Absorbing oxygen and exhaling CO2 from the body by breathing in and out between 17,000 and 30,000 times a day, the spongy pink organs keep us alive without us thinking twice.
“The lungs’ major role is to transfer oxygen from the air into our circulatory system. They also remove waste products and are part of our respiratory system,” says Dr Aashish Vyas, consultant respiratory physician at Nuffield Health. “In adulthood, our lungs are fully formed, and from our mid-thirties our lung capacity starts to reduce. It is important therefore to maintain optimal lung functionality, which includes retaining our ‘best’ lung capacity as we age in order to maintain a high quality of life.”
Studies have shown poor air quality and pollution can be linked to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and can also increase the likelihood of getting lung infections. While we may not be able to control all external factors like fumes or fires, there are small changes we can make to minimise its impact.
“Having a clean home helps, and simple tips include washing bedding regularly in a high temperature wash, ensuring floors are clean and keeping homes dust-free,” says Dr Vyas. “If you live in an area with low air pollution, good ventilation is important. Keep windows open as much as possible and have an air filtration system to reduce exposure to any pollution.”
From eating certain foods to having good posture, here are some other ways we can all show our lungs some love…
It’s not new information that staying active has a positive impact on our health, but certain exercises are particularly lung-friendly.
“Any exercise is better than none, and regular exercise is better than infrequent,” explains Dr Vyas. “It doesn’t need to be high intensity or highly demanding – it can be walking to work or to the shops, or taking the stairs rather than the lift. Aerobic and endurance exercise is really useful for lung function. Couch to 5K, parkruns or cycling to work will all support cardio-respiratory function.”
While poor posture is known to cause issues such as headaches and impaired digestion, it can also alter our breathing mechanisms by not facilitating “coordinated breathing” (inhaling through our nose and exhaling through our lips). “Posture is important to support coordinated breathing,” says Dr Vyas. “It’s helpful to focus on your posture and take regular breaks from sitting to walk around. When you do this, try to focus on taking slow, high volume [deep] breaths.”
Have a laugh
When it comes to looking after our lungs, laughter really is the best medicine. “When you laugh, you release endorphins, which can do a lot of positive things for the body, such as improving your mood,” says Dr Vyas. “Laughing also expands your lungs, helps to remove mucus, improves oxygenation and helps to expel carbon dioxide.”
Feed your lungs
While Dr Vyas explains that there is “no single wonder food to improve our lung health”, some types of food and nutrients can help to support our lungs.
“Complex carbohydrates and high-fibre foods help lung health. Dairy products and protein also help to improve muscle function and, as your diaphragm is a muscle, this positively contributes,” he says. “Vitamins C, D, E and associated antioxidants may have a role in reducing the risk of lung infection when taken regularly. Vitamin D has been shown to support lung health and reduce inflammation within the lungs in patients with asthma and COPD.”
Raise a glass
Drinking around six to eight glasses of water a day (that’s 2-2.5 litres) 4 will help to support key functions of the body, and specifically helps when it comes to local hydration.
“The lungs need to be moist as this improves gas exchange,” explains Dr Vyas. “Hydration can also help to clear mucus, and people who are prone to chest infections are encouraged to drink more fluids. An easy way to tell if you have adequate hydration is to look at the colour of your urine. If it’s clear and looks like water, that means you are adequately hydrated.”
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