You may not think about them much, but as the centerpiece of your respiratory system, your lungs are always hard at work. Each day, we take about 23,000 breaths, and as we breathe, the lungs filter out waste and move the ever-important oxygen into our bloodstream and to all the cells in the body. As we age, our lung capacity declines, making this necessary gas exchange more difficult. But there are things you can do to keep your lungs healthy and even increase your capacity.
- Stop Smoking (and avoid secondhand smoke). If you currently use tobacco products, quitting smoking is the fastest way to improve lung health. Cigarette smoke can narrow air passages and make breathing more difficult. The longer that someone smokes, the more it can cause chronic inflammation, or swelling in the lung, and put you at greater risk for lung cancer or COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Inhaling secondhand smoke can also cause a wide range of problems that may lead to respiratory infections and chronic disease. However, only 24 hours after you quit smoking, your body begins to repair the damage and your risk of disease goes down the longer you resist a cigarette.
- Exercise regularly. When you're physically active, your heart and lungs work harder to get additional oxygen to your muscles. Regular exercise doesn’t only make your lungs stronger, but it makes your heart stronger too. Your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to the working muscles which is one of the reasons that you become less likely to get short of breath during exercise over time.
- Maintain a healthy diet and stay hydrated. Your body uses food as fuel and the process of changing food into energy with the help of oxygen (or metabolism) is only accomplished with the help of your lungs. No single food will supply all the nutrients you need. Drinking water can help thin the mucus lining of your airways and lungs, making it easier to breathe. In contrast, when you are dehydrated, the mucus can become thick and sticky which, besides slowing down overall respiration, can also make you more likely to contract an illness or have worsening allergies.
- Get annual check-ups. Visiting your healthcare provider regularly for a check-up helps prevent illness, so keep those medical appointments even when you are feeling well. This is especially true for lung disease, which sometimes goes undetected until it is advanced. Your healthcare provider should also be the first to hear about any breathing troubles you may be experiencing.
- Stay up to date with vaccinations. Infectious respiratory diseases such as influenza, COVID-19, pneumococcal pneumonia and RSV spread from person to person and the best way to stop the spread is through by being vaccinated. Vaccines are especially important for people with lung disease as they can help prevent serious illness.
- Avoid outdoor air pollution exposure. Though outdoor air can be cleaner than indoor air, there are still many pollutants that make outdoor air unhealthy. More than one in three Americans live in places with unhealthy outdoor air. Ozone and particle pollution are the most widespread pollutants and among the most dangerous. Learn more about the outdoor air quality near you and how to keep your family safe in our State of the Air Report.
- Improve indoor air quality. Secondhand smoke, household chemicals, mold and radon can all affect indoor air quality and cause problems for your lungs. Indoor air pollutants are especially hazardous if you have a chronic lung disease. Dusting regularly, changing air filters and keeping your house smokefree are just a few of many tips to improve your indoor air.
- Practice deep breathing. There are many ways to breathe deeply that may not only improve your lung function but also assist in managing stressful situations. These breathing exercises can improve the lungs’ strength and endurance. This in turn can increase both inspiratory muscle function and the amount of air inhaled and exhaled voluntarily.
- Maintain good hygiene. Washing your hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds can help you to avoid infections. You can use hand sanitizer as a backup in situations where running water is not readily available. If you are sick or infection rates are high, staying socially distant or wearing a mask can help you avoid contracting or spreading an infection as well.
- Get screened for Lung Cancer. Low-dose CT scans can reduce deaths in those at high risk by detection lung cancer before symptoms appear. The test is not recommended for everyone so talk to your healthcare provider to determine if you are eligible.
Blog last updated: August 25, 2023