What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear or see the word "wellness?"

It might not be the inner workings of your respiratory system. Or your body’s preparedness to fight off severe illness that could come from a respiratory virus such as COVID-19. But our health, well-being and longevity depend in part on how well the human body performs, and this is especially important when it comes to your lungs and breathing. From the first breath we take after emerging from the womb to our last, air moves in and out of the lungs and blood travels through our vessels in and out of the respiratory system. Our health depends on how efficiently oxygen and blood move throughout the body.

The good news is we can take steps to prepare our bodies to better fight infection. Health is a continuum, so no matter who you are or what shape you are in, there is always room for improvement. That typically involves exercising more, eating more nutritious food, and learning about breathing efficiently, which may mean using breathing exercises. When the human body is strong and efficient, that's when we can do our best work, prevent disease, and fight illness.

Here are some tips to better prepare your body to fight against illnesses like COVID-19.

1. Prioritize regular healthcare checkups.

During regular visits, your healthcare provider will conduct an oral and physical exam to make sure your lungs are working properly. They will also review any overdue vaccinations with you and together you can make a plan to get vaccinated against infectious diseases. Until you are immunized, you are more likely to develop severe complications that could result in hospitalization or death because of an ill-prepared antibody response.

2. Get Moving

Regular physical activity is not just for your waistline. Exercise can strengthen your heart and lungs, and reduce the risk of serious illness, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other medical conditions. In fact, habitual physical activity has been linked to a 37% risk reduction in infectious disease mortality.

When you exercise and your muscles work harder, your body copes by increasing the number of breaths you take and speeds up delivering that oxygen to the muscles. Breathing heavily during exercise is nothing to worry about for those with normal lung function, and the more you exercise regularly, the more your body will adjust to the new demands. These changes can improve circulation and strengthen the heart.

For people with long-term lung conditions, exercise may initially seem daunting but if done regularly, it can actually help improve symptoms. It is best to talk to your health care provider to create an exercise plan that is safe for your condition and determine if pulmonary rehabilitation is an option for you. One common suggestion is intermittent exercise or interval training, as it can minimize shortness of breath during exercise. For people living with COPD, supplementary oxygen may be suggested to help ensure enough oxygen gets to the muscles during the chosen physical activity. For patients with asthma, inhaled bronchodilators can provide a similar aid.

3. Understand the role of nutrition in lung health.

Getting the right mix of nutrients including essential vitamins and antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can help maintain or boost your immune system. If you have a chronic medical condition, be sure to check with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for dietary guidelines specific to your needs. Along with a good diet, work with your doctor to know your risk factors for obesity (or metabolic syndrome), some of which have a dietary connection. Obesity can contribute to chronic diseases that affect your lungs, such as asthma and sleep apnea, as well as putting you at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

4. If you suffer from a long-term lung disease, learn and practice breathing exercises.

Patients living with lung disease can benefit from specific exercises that train the accessory muscles that support the lungs. 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. In other words, breathing exercises can help when you are feeling short of breath. This training progressively desensitizes - or makes you less likely to experience the feeling of breathlessness - and may help control some respiratory symptoms.

The key to keeping your body and respiratory system strong is prioritizing good health habits and disease prevention. Focus on eating to support good health, successful exercise strategies and regular healthcare checkups— these preparations can help you put up a fight if you do contract COVID-19 or any other disease.

Diana Garrett started a career in Nursing in 1984, graduating from Northern Illinois University.

Becoming interested in human movement and health prevention, studied and became certified in Massage Therapy and Fitness Training. Diana is a Type I Insulin dependent diabetic and is currently working in Las Vegas, NV in the medical ICU.

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