All You Need to Know About Maintaining Strong, Healthy Lungs


Healthy Lungs, Health Room

Maintaining healthy lungs is something that we often overlook in the world of health and wellness.

We’re all concerned with keeping the old ticker running properly, dissolving our belly fat and boosting our brain power, but the organ that allows us to take in that oh so important oxygen from the atmosphere (and flush out unwanted carbon dioxide) usually doesn’t get a second thought.

I’ll admit that maintaining healthy lungs wasn’t really something I had considered all that much until fairly recently.

The unfortunate fact remains however, that more than 4 million people die each year related to some sort of chronic respiratory condition, and many of these deaths could be avoided if we were a bit more diligent with our lung health.

This week, in conjunction with the guys at the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Centre, I’m bring you ten top tips that will help you maintain healthy lungs.

This is a fairly long article, so feel free to bookmark it and save it for a time when you feel like going deep with your lung health. And as always, if you feel like this information is useful then share it with your buddies on social media.


10 Easy Ways to Maintain Healthy Lungs

First up, here’s a healthy home checklist provided by the kind people at MAAC, highlighting seven ideas that will help you make your home one that promotes healthy lungs.

After the infographic, I’ll go through each point in more detail, and add three of my own ideas for good measure.

MAAC Healthy Lungs1. Don’t Disturb Asbestos

One of the main goals of MAAC is to raise awareness around mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer that forms in the mesothelium, which is the protective lining that covers many of your internal organs.

Mesothelioma is primarily caused by being exposed to asbestos, a material that is typically found in older homes built around the 1980’s.

If you’re into DIY, then you should to be particularly careful, as breaking or damaging asbestos can cause it to split into small particles that can then cause mesothelioma. The disease often takes years to be diagnosed, as the symptoms are closely related to those from other respiratory illnesses.

Here in the UK, there has thankfully been a crackdown on the use of asbestos, however it is still legal for use in the USA, so tread carefully.

Action Steps:

  • Be aware of any areas in your home that asbestos may be present – most commonly in attic insulation, drywall, floor tiles and insulation around pipes.
  • If you feel you are at risk, call out a qualified asbestos engineer to assess your property.
  • If you suspect asbestos is present, when carrying out any DIY, ensure that you are wearing full body protection.
  • If you think that you have been exposed to asbestos, visit your doctors for a mesothelioma blood test.

 

2. Avoid Unnatural Cleaning Products

Ironically, many of the traditional cleaning products we use today can actually make our homes more toxic than if we simply did nothing.

An article over on the Ethical Consumer site states that the air inside the typical home is on average 2-5 times more polluted than the air just outside, and in extreme cases, 100 times more contaminated – largely because of household cleaners and pesticides.

Many of these products contain substances such as ammonia, bleach and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, all of which pose some pretty serious health risks.

In small doses these compounds can cause irritations to the skin, eyes and throat, as well as dizziness and fatigue. Over exposures have been linked to more serious issues, such as asthma, damage to the nervous system, and even a possible increase in the risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Action Steps:

  • Opt for natural cleaning brands such as Method or Ecover.
  • Go old school with some soapy water, baking soda, or lemon and vinegar.

 

3. Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is odourless and tasteless – part of the reasons why it’s so dangerous. It is sometimes omitted from faulty appliances, and is also found in cigarette smoke (which we’ll talk more about later).

Carbon monoxide damages the body by binding to haemoglobin in your bloodstream, blocking your ability to utilise oxygen and slowly suffocating your organs. Not nice.

The common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, and even loss of consciousness.

If the poisoning doesn’t kill, it can still lead to serious long term damage if not mitigated. As explained over on Net Wellness, prolonged oxygen deprivation can cause issues such as:

  • Stiffening of the lung tissue from scarring, resulting in a condition called chronic obstructive lung disease or emphysema.
  • Weakening of the alveolar sacs (the area in the lungs where oxygen is taken in by the blood and carbon dioxide is released) causing bronchiectasis.
  • Damage to the lining of the bronchial tubes (the passageways for air to get to the alveoli for gas exchange).
  • Damage to the hair cells in the bronchial tubes which help rid the lungs of excess mucous and particulates (small particles such as dust, viruses, bacteria, and dead cells).

Action Steps:

 

4. Regularly Check Appliances for Carbon Monoxide

As just mentioned, carbon monoxide poisoning is no joke.

As well as making sure you have a working detection mechanism, you should also regularly check any appliances such as cookers, microwaves, heaters and kettles for damage. The substance is usually released during incomplete combustion of gas, which often occurs if an appliance has been fitted incorrectly or poorly repaired.

Some of the most common signs of carbon monoxide damage include:

  • Lazy yellow or orange flames on the cooker. The flame should be crisp and blue.
  • Dark staining around or on appliances.
  • Pilot lights that frequently blow out.
  • Increased condensation inside windows.

Action Steps:

  • Your best bet is not to wait until the signs show up, as often the damage has already been done. Instead, be proactive and reach out to a qualified gas engineer to perform a safety check.

 

5. Avoid Traditional Air Fresheners

Much like the cleaning products I mentioned earlier, many traditional air freshness contain VOCs and other toxic compounds that can have an adverse effect on your lung health. Some research suggests that air fresheners may also increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Instead of these nasty air fresheners (that I’ve frankly found to be too overpowering anyway), I like to use essential oils to make the flat smell nice. As well as being free from any nasty chemicals, some essential oils may also encourage healthy lungs:

  • Studies have shown that lavender essential oil can help to bring down respiratory inflammation in people who suffer from asthma.
  • Thyme essential oil has been shown to kill lung cancer cells in a petri dish, although it’s not clear whether the same effects are true in humans.
  • Eucalyptus oil has also been linked with healthy lungs and may help with the treatment of sinusitis.

I personally use these organic ones from AromaCare. I just place a few drops in a diffuser with a little water, and I place that next to me on my standing workstation. Health benefits or not, they smell good, and tend to help me relax.

Action Steps:

  • Avoid traditional air fresheners in your home and car.
  • Potentially replace them with organic essential oils in a diffuser.

*Get a head start on forming healthy habits with the Health Room Starter Guide, along with email updates whenever a new article is posted, subscriber only content, and more.**


 

6. Prevent Mould

High moisture areas in your house like the bathroom, shower, and areas surrounding the kitchen sink are prone to the growth of bacteria and mould (or mold for you US guys). Although less common, it can also grow on drywalls, wallpaper, and even in carpets too.

The spores and mycotoxins given off by mould can irritate your throat and nasal cavity, and can even block mucus membranes, leading to inflammation. In some cases the spores can also trigger asthma attacks in asthma sufferers, and mycotoxins have also been linked to a number neurological disorders.

Action Steps:

  • Wipe up spills and shower residue straight away.
  • Invest in a humidity monitor and ensure your indoor humidity is below 40%. You could do this by using a dehumidifier or air conditioning unit.

 

7. Quit Smoking

If you’re looking to live a long, healthy lifestyle, this one kinda goes without saying really…

Smoking negatively affects just about every system in the body. The NHS has a pretty good summary over on their site – here are a few of the main impacts they cover:

  • Lungs – smoking has a devastating effect on lung health, leading to over production of mucus, inflammation, and the breakdown of the lung structure. It causes 84% of deaths from lung cancer and 83% of deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease, including bronchitis.
  • Circulation –  toxins from cigarette smoke enter your bloodstream, thickening the blood, increasing your blood pressure and heart rate, narrowing your arteries – all of which increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Stomach – smoking can weaken esophageal muscles, causing acid reflux and increasing the risk of stomach cancer, kidney cancer, and ulcers.

The list could go on and on, highlighting the impact of smoking on the brain, heart, skin, skeletal system and even reproductive organs.

Again, carbon monoxide is one of the big culprits found in cigarette smoke. Combine this with the addictive nature of nicotine and the devastating effects of tar, and maintaining healthy lungs becomes near on impossible.

Action Steps:

  • If you are currently a smoker, get help in quitting. There are plenty of online support groups, and my course Healthy Habits 101 may also help you to find a replacement habit.
  • If you don’t currently smoke, avoid second hand sources whenever possible.

 

8. Practice Breathing Techniques

Now let’s take a look at a few bonus tips from me, starting with something exceedingly simple – breathing.

Although we have the capability to inhale around six litres of air with each breath, we typically take in much less that that. This is what’s known as shallow breathing, or chest breathing.

It’ a built in part of our natural fight or flight stress response. When we feel like we’re in danger, instead of sucking air deep into the belly using the diaphragm, we resort to short, shallow breaths. Whilst this may benefit us somehow in running from (or fighting against) a wild predator, it does nothing for us in our everyday life.

Any physical or emotional stress usually makes us resort to this shallow breathing pattern. If the stress is chronic and persists over a long time period, the breathing pattern starts to become a habit.

Not only does shallow breathing weaken the deep breathing muscles, reduce lung elasticity, increase blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen available to our cells, I also find that it further increases my perceived feeling of stress. It’s a downwards cycle, but one that you can quite easily break free from.

Here’s how…

Action Steps:

  • Practice specific breathing exercises such as box breathing (check out my video here) or the Wim Hof’s power breathing technique. You can do these exercises every morning, in between sets at the gym, and throughout the day whenever you start to feel stressed.
  • Have a daily meditation practice where you simply focus on the breath.
  • Perform a morning movement practice such as yoga where you perform deep nasal breathing.
  • When you’re out and about in the shopping centre or airport, time your breaths to your steps using the box breathing method (four in, four hold, four out, four hold). You can also time your breaths to the beat in some dope tracks when you’re driving around with your crew.

 

9. Exercise Regularly

A big issues that commonly results in shallow breathing (or at least doesn’t help it) is poor posture. If your shoulders are hunched over and your torso is folded forwards from prolonged sitting and slouching, your respiratory tract is constantly being compressed and restricted. The diaphragm is unable to function properly, therefore you have no choice but to breathe into your chest.

Another issue that limits many people’s lung health is a lack of exertion. Studies have shown that simply sitting down too much can increase the risk of you developing a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that travels from the veins in the legs into the lungs.

Both aerobic and anaerobic physical training have been shown to increase the strength of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles and increase the number of alveoli in the lungs. This can lead to an improvement in your:

  • Aerobic capacity – your ability to take in, transport and utilise oxygen to sustain prolonged periods of aerobic work
  • VO2 Max – your highest rate of oxygen consumption available during maximal efforts.

If you want to maintain strong, healthy lungs, it’s therefore imperative that you engage in regular physical activity.

Action Steps:

  • Fix your posture with regular mobility training, foam rolling, and good positioning during every day movements.
  • Give your lungs a regular workout – performing long duration exercise roughly once a week, short high intensity sessions a couple of times a week, and strength training a few times a week.
  • Engage in low level activity throughout the day – using a standing workstation, taking regular walk breaks and climbing stairs.

 

10. Eat Healthily

It wouldn’t be a Health Room post without talking about food at some point…

Although it may seem like a tenuous link, your dietary choices can in fact have quite big impact on your lung health.

Common allergens such as dairy, eggs, fish, soy, wheat and some nuts, as well as certain food preservatives can trigger inflammation and even a severe asthmatic response in some people.

There has long been controversy over whether cooked meat can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Some studies suggest that it does up your cancer risk, whilst population studies have been unable to establish a definitive link.

What’s certain though is that processed foods such as butter flavoured popcorn do have a definitive link to adverse lung conditions such as Bronchiolitis obliterans, which literally involves the obliteration of airways in the lung, and is often fatal.

Action Steps:

  • Identify any allergens with an allergy test or elimination diet, and avoid them.
  • Avoid or limit processed foods, and don’t overdo it with the animal products if you choose to consume them.
  • Base your diet around a wide range of whole, nutrient dense plant foods.

 

What do you do to ensure that you maintain healthy lungs?

What tips would you add to the list, or take away? 

 

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