Healthy Habits for Your Lungs
Every cell and organ in your body needs oxygen, regardless of its function. Your lungs feed this life-sustaining element to each and every one of them. Breathing problems can seriously impact your health, but many can be avoided through healthy habits. Symptoms of lung issues can be evaluated and diagnosed at Fulton County Medical Center, which offers smoking cessation, lung cancer screening, and other respiratory care services—but most important are the habits you maintain every day.
Your lungs are directly exposed to any environmental allergens, pollutants, and toxins inhaled. First, a look at how they function is provided to help understand how vulnerable they are. A series of healthy habits and activities for your lungs will then be discussed in detail.
How Lungs Work
The lungs are a pair of organs on either side of the chest cavity. Spongy in nature, they contain tubular airways that branch out from the windpipe, or trachea, where air passes after entering the mouth. These bronchi divide into smaller and smaller tubes deep in the lungs.
All of them end in clusters of alveoli, which are microscopic air sacs where oxygen is absorbed into clusters of tiny capillaries (there are about 300 million alveoli in the human body1). Oxygen-filled blood is then carried to the heart, which pumps it via arteries to all your organs and tissues.
Several anatomical features support the lungs. They’re covered by a thin layer of tissue (pleura) that holds a thin layer of lubricating fluid. It allows the expansion and contraction of respiration to go smoothly without straining the organs.
The diaphragm muscle is important to the breathing process. This dome-shaped muscle sits under the lungs and is attached to the ribcage and spine, giving it a parachute-like configuration. It contracts downward upon inhalation. A vacuum is created, causing air to enter the lungs. When you exhale, the muscle pushes upward to deflate them.
Your lungs also have methods to filter out harmful substances. Nose hairs help filter larger particles, while microscopic hairs (cilia) line the air passages to keep them clean. They move together in a sweeping motion. Cigarette smoke can interfere with these hairs, but normal-functioning cilia work together with mucous in the airways to move dust and microorganisms upward, even from deeper parts of the lungs.
Lung-Friendly Habits and Activities
Many respiratory diseases seen at Fulton County Health Center are caused in part due to unhealthy habits. For example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema are often caused by smoking. Although pneumonia or fluid in the lungs is often caused by bacteria, smoking can make you more susceptible. Breathing polluted air can lead to asthma, while obesity can lead to breathing difficulties because excess weight interferes with chest expansion.
Cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, and influenza are other serious lung pathologies, but not necessarily influenced by your habits. Quitting smoking or avoiding it altogether is the absolute best way to care for your lungs and respiratory system. However, activity is important, too.
Most of the time, your lungs function at 50% capacity, whether you’re resting or engaged in typical activities. Intense exercise and activity can boost their capacity while having positive effects on the rest of your body.
These habits and activities will benefit your respiratory health:
Exercise: Regular exercise has many benefits; it can improve circulation and strengthen muscles (both great for the lungs), lower blood pressure, and put you in a better mood. A brisk walk or a ride on a bicycle can help. For the most benefits, increased activity should last for at least 20 minutes.2
Running is also effective, but many runners (and swimmers) are coached in increasing their lung powerby breathing in patterns and by breathing with the belly rather than the chest. This puts excess strain on chest muscles; by breathing in using your abdomen, you can strengthen the diaphragm and other muscles. Such activity is the focus of Pilates. In fact, breathing techniques that support deeper inhalation are used by athletes and singers.
Time Your Breaths: Here is a good place to start. Count how many seconds a typical breath takes; it should take just as long to inhale as to exhale. To improve your lung capacity, add counts to each inhalation and exhalation, one at a time, to make each breath last longer. The process should be gradual without any discomfort.
Another technique is deep breathing. Inhale slowly with an awareness of the diaphragm. Expand the stomach area and ribs and let your chest expand and lift; then focus on a complete exhalation. Your chest should fall and ribs contract. As the stomach muscles contract, the diaphragm should lift up as you complete the respiration cycle.
Improve Your Posture: Slouching reduces the available space in the chest cavity. The lungs can’t resist the pressure, as they are very soft. It doesn’t only take a disease or lung cancer to reduce their capacity. When sitting, try to keep your spine straight up, as if you’re reaching upward, or you can try leaning back, breathing deeply while lifting your chest. This makes room for your lungs so you can get a healthier dose of fresh air.
Eat Healthy Food: Zinc, magnesium, selenium, and potassium are great for respiratory health. According to the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, vitamins C, E, and A are also beneficial. Antioxidants, fruits, and vegetables may prevent several lung diseases, particularly those involving oxidative and inflammatory processes.3
Foods that can promote lung health include garlic, onions, ginger, broccoli, cauliflower, apples, grapefruit, carrots, and various nuts, beans, and seeds. Oranges and red bell peppers, rich in vitamin C, are also beneficial.
Drink Water: Hydration is key to overall good health. By drinking enough water, the respiratory mucosal linings can thin out, making it easier to breathe and reducing the chances you’ll need a doctor at Fulton County Medical Center. You need to drink regularly throughout the day for it to be effective.
Get Some Plants: Green plants release oxygen into the air. They also remove some airborne toxins. Indoor air quality is, therefore, improved so your lungs are protected and can work more efficiently.
Wash Those Hands: We’re all told thorough hand washing with soap kills cold and flu viruses, bacteria, and germs that cause pneumonia and other diseases. Good hygiene helps avoid inhaling harmful microbes. Sanitizing mobile devices, from smartphones to headsets, does, too. The idea is that keeping germs out of the lungs is the best way to avoid getting sick.
While you can avoid smoking, it’s hard to avoid all the toxins and dust in the air. Exercise and other strategies can help increase the capacity of your lungs to intake oxygen and cleanse themselves. Normal day-to-day activities don’t do enough to accomplish this. A lack of exercise and poor habits can seriously harm your respiratory health.
Signs of Trouble
Healthy habits go a long way in optimizing your lung health, but not every problem can be prevented. Sometimes there are no personal remedies that can resolve the situation. Symptoms to look out for, and for which you should see a doctor, include:
·Pain when inhaling and exhaling
·Pain inside the airway
·Shortness of breath with basic activities
·Wheezing when you exercise
·A cough that persists
·A cough that occurs during exercise
·Dizziness when you change activities
Many people treat coughs with cough drops and over-the-counter medicine or by moisturizing the air. Drinking fluids helps, as well, especially if you have a sore throat. Coughs often last around 10 days, but having a cough linger about two weeks to 18 days is enough time to consider a doctor visit.4
Other signs for concern include fever, chills, body aches, sputum that’s brown or bloody, or if you have trouble swallowing. If you’re hoarse and short of breath, and the symptoms come on suddenly, it may be wise to seek medical advice and treatment.
Preventing infections and minimizing exposure to air pollutants help protect your lungs. Indoor pollutants are just as dangerous. Ventilation ducts are often sources of many types of contaminants, so have them inspected and/or cleaned regularly, and test your home for radon as well. This radioactive gas has no odor, but it occurs naturally in the environment. Allergy and asthma triggers are a major cause of breathing difficulties. If you identify these, you can learn to avoid them or limit your exposure.
FCMC Respiratory Therapy Services
Fulton County Medical Center offers several respiratory therapy services. Smoking cessation services are among the most important since smoking greatly increases your chances of developing lung cancer. Linked to around 80 to 90% of lung cancer cases, cigarette smoking exposes people to over 7,000 toxic chemicals, 70 of which are known to be carcinogenic.5
Our Respiratory Therapy Department provides both outpatient therapy, in the form of one-on-one and group sessions, and in-patient consulting. Health screenings are available to detect early signs of cancer, which is most treatable in its early stages. Other respiratory therapy services include arterial blood gas analysis, oxygen therapy, Bipap/Cpap monitoring, and pulmonary function testing. More information on these services can be found at FCMC’s respiratory therapy services page.
Fulton County Health Center is a community-based facility that offers a comprehensive range of medical services. Both preventative and restorative health services have been offered for over 65 years. Various outpatient health services are available, but Fulton County Medical Center also operates an 88-bed critical access hospital. A nursing care facility is also part of the complex, conveniently located in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania.
If you have pulmonary, cardiological, orthopedic, gynecological, or other health concerns, schedule an appointment today by calling (717) 485-3155.