Breathing is one of the essential functions we need for life. And, luckily for most of us it is a seamless process.
We breathe in, sucking air into our lungs. The air travels down our windpipe, into either lungs, and eventually reaches little air sacs in our lungs called alveoli. In these air sacs oxygen is transported into our bloodstream. The oxygen is then transported around the body to supply our muscles, joints and other vital organs with the oxygen needed to perform the functions essential to our survival. 1, 2
In fact, it is often only when something goes wrong that we realise how unpleasant being breathless can be. It is in these moments we value our lung health.
“The British Lung Foundation is a leading UK health charity looking after the nation’s lungs and we are delighted to be partnering with NiQuitin to work towards our overall mission that one day everyone will be able to breathe clean air with healthy lungs”.
Bernie Nolan, Head of High Value Partnerships
But what exactly is lung health? Besides the crucial function of keeping us alive, what are some of the other benefits to our whole body of healthy lungs? And, is there anything we can do to improve our lung health?
What is lung health?
When we think of our health, we might not immediately think of our lungs. However our lungs are like any other part of our body in that they gradually age and wear out. The average man who lives to 80 can have taken over 672 million breaths and will have lungs that look very different to that of a 25 year old.3
As our lungs age, the passages and blood vessels found in them will become less flexible and the alveoli will expand. This makes the transfer of oxygen into our bloodstream more difficult. By the age of 65, the average individual will have lost up to a litre of lung capacity.3
Besides a natural decline as we age our lung health can also be damaged by3:
- Exposure to pollution
These factors all play together in influencing how healthy our lungs are. Someone with healthier lungs, and a higher lung capacity, will find themselves able to breathe easier and get less out of breath when exercising.
The benefits of lung health to your whole body
Our lungs don’t only keep our body supplied with oxygen and remove waste gases, such as Carbon Dioxide. Our lungs also play a role in our immune system.
When we breathe the air that is pulled into our lungs contains germs that can make us ill and pollutants. Our lungs help to keep our body healthy by preventing these unwanted materials getting into our body.
Mucus is produced in the airways of our lungs. It helps to keep our lungs clean and well lubricated by catching unwanted materials. The mucus is then wafted by little hairs (called cilia) out of your lungs and into your throat. Here it is either swallowed, often without you even realising, or can be coughed up.4
How can you improve your lung health?
When looking after a car, we all know that by driving it carefully and servicing it regularly the car will last longer and have a lower chance of mechanicals as it gets older.
Our lungs are no different. While our lungs will age no matter how well we look after them, we can work to mitigate some of the effects by taking some time to look after our lungs.
Here are some steps you can take to keep your lungs healthy.
1. Don’t smoke or give up smoking
The number one way to keep your lungs healthy is to not smoke or to give up smoking. Cigarette smoking can have a significant impact on the health of our lungs . Cigarette smoke prematurely ages our lungs, by narrowing and stiffening the airways in our lungs.5 This increases your long-term risk of lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.6
The impact of this on our lung health is so severe that tobacco consumption has been classified as the single largest avoidable health risk, and the most significant cause of premature death in the EU.7
2. Exercise to increase lung capacity
Most of us are used to the idea that exercise is good for our health. Exercise can be a good way to reduce excess body fat, build muscle and improve our mood. In the same way exercise can strengthen our muscles, it can also strengthen our lungs.
As you improve your physical fitness your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen to your body. This means overtime you are less likely to be breathless when doing exercise that would previously leave you gasping.8
There are many ways you can still keep active even with a lung condition. For example, you can take part in a rehabilitation programme, or lower impact activities, such as yoga or dancing.
3. Avoid air pollution
Pollutants can irritate the lungs, increasing your risk of lung disease or worsen an existing condition. There are lots of sources of pollution outdoors, but luckily there are some simple steps you can take to avoid exposing yourself to excessive levels of pollution.
However, one thing that most of us don’t consider is the level of pollutants inside our houses. It is a good idea to keep your house clean, well ventilated and avoid smoking indoors to reduce the exposure to you and your family when spending time indoors.
4. Take steps to prevent infection
Lung infections, like pneumonia, can do long term damage to the airways in our lungs. This means adopting good hygiene practices, such as regularly washing your hands, avoiding crowds in flu season and getting the flu jab (if you’re in a at risk group) can be good precautions to keep your lungs healthy.3
5. Eat more fruit
There may be more truth in the saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away than many of us think. Those who consumed a higher intake of fruit and tomatoes have been shown to have a delayed decline in lung function compared to those who consumed less fruit. This correlation was found to be particularly strong in ex-smokers.9 Overall a healthy diet has been shown to be a factor in healthy lungs.10
6. Take up singing
Singing is a fun group activity that not only can be good for a mood, but also the health of our lungs. People with lung conditions who sing regularly have reported that it reduces their feeling of being short of breath, helps them feel more in control of their breathing and helps them manage their symptoms better. You don’t even need to be good at singing to enjoy the benefits.
It is believed singing benefits breathing by teaching you to breathe slower and deeper, improving the sense of control over breathing and improving posture to help you breathe more efficiently.11
If you are interested in singing for lung health it is possible to find your nearest group. With all abilities welcome.
This year NiQuitin are joining forces with The British Lung Foundation to protect people’s lungs. Together we will be raising awareness of the damaging ways air pollution affects our lungs and encouraging people to take action to change this. If you would like to find out more about the work we are doing together visit The British Lung Foundation website.