The lungs are one of our most essential organs — and one of the easiest to take for granted. If you aren’t living with respiratory problems or at risk of developing them, you might not give your lungs too much attention.
But the truth is that anyone should keep lung health top of mind, for several reasons. First, your lungs become weaker as you age, like many other parts of the body, and the actions you take today can help you breathe easier for years to come. Secondly, while most of us are aware that smoking damages your lungs, we don’t always think about other risk factors for lung disease, many of which are all around us.
Fortunately, small actions can make a big impact when it comes to lung health — including many healthy habits that fit easily into your day. Here are some important steps to take.
1. Quit smoking
Okay, you probably expected this one, but there’s a reason it’s at the top of our list. Cigarette smoking is the primary cause of both lung cancer — the leading cause of cancer death among U.S. adults — and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Cigarette smoke harms the lungs in several ways. It narrows the airways, causes swelling and inflammation, and gradually damages lung tissue over time.
Smoking cessation is the most important thing you can do to maintain good lung health, and it is never too late (or too early) to quit. If you’re living with COPD, quitting smoking can slow the progression of the condition. Research has found that many people with early-stage COPD are able to regain near-normal lung function after quitting tobacco use.
If you’re having difficulty quitting, don’t be discouraged. It often takes multiple attempts. Ask your doctor for smoking cessation resources, like nicotine replacement therapy, to support your efforts.
2. Avoid exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants
Avoid secondhand smoke and other indoor pollutants as much as possible. Radon, a naturally occurring gas that can get trapped in houses and buildings, is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Many homes and office buildings have unsafe levels of radon. Testing is necessary to determine radon levels. Testing kits are available online and at many hardware stores.
In addition, be mindful of potential exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens including uranium, diesel exhaust, and workplace chemicals.
Many pollutants are found in outdoor air, and climate change continues to negatively impact outdoor air quality. There are resources that share information about local daily air quality. Stay up to date and avoid outdoor exercise when air quality is poor.
3. Stay physically active
The benefits of regular physical activity include not only stronger muscles, but also stronger lungs. This is because exercise forces your lungs to work harder to provide your body with additional oxygen. Over time, your lungs will get into better shape as they become more efficient at this task.
While there’s a common misconception that COPD prevents exercise, physical activity is an essential part of managing the condition. Check in with your doctor about which activities are appropriate for your lung function and stage of COPD.
Bonus tip: in addition to aerobic exercise, practice breathing exercises that also boost lung health. Diaphragmatic breathing, which involves inhaling more deeply, can increase your lung capacity. (The technique is practiced by many professional singers precisely for this reason.) To give it a try, place your hands on your stomach and chest, and slowly inhale through your nose while your stomach expands.
4. Keep your immune system strong
A strong immune system and typical flu season precautions can protect against lung infection. To stay healthy, practice good hygiene, like frequently washing hands with soap and warm water and sanitizing high-touch surfaces.
Staying up to date with vaccines is another crucial step. Health experts recommend getting the flu shot every year, ideally by the end of October. This is especially important for those who are 65 or older and/or living with COPD.
5. Attend regular doctor’s appointments
Lung diseases are often detected after they have progressed to a more advanced stage. Attend regular physicals so that your provider can listen to your breathing and address any concerns you may have about your lung health.
Depending on your health history, your prevention efforts may include getting a lung cancer screening, which can detect 80% of lung cancer cases at an early stage. These screenings are typically reserved for individuals at a high risk of lung cancer, including those who:
Have a history of heavy smoking
Were previously treated for lung cancer
Are living with COPD
Have a family history of lung cancer
Ask your doctor if lung cancer screening is recommended for you.
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At Alto, we go above and beyond to help you stay on track with your doctor’s recommendations, getting you the medication you need at the best price possible. And our pharmacists are here to chat whenever questions come up.
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This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.