The respiratory system is one part of the body that’s often ignored until it takes a hit. Our lungs are working nonstop to deliver oxygen to every single cell, so the least we can do is take care of them! Your lungs might feel fine right now, but age and environmental factors can negatively affect the respiratory system in surprising ways.
With a few healthy habits you can practice right now, you’ll keep your lungs healthy well into the future.
Why you should focus on lung health
As you age, your bodily systems slow down and don’t work as well as they used to. The strength and capacity of your lungs is no exception. Lungs slowly lose their flexibility over time, and the diaphragm muscle is less capable of expanding and contracting to control airflow. Even healthy people who are in great shape need to maintain proper lung function so they can slow the aging process.
Despite our best efforts, many people still develop chronic lung diseases later in life. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for your lung health! People who consistently take care of their lungs can minimize respiratory symptoms and enjoy a longer, healthier life. Good lung health can reduce your risk of respiratory diseases—as the saying goes, prevention is the best medicine.
How to boost your respiratory system
Lungs pump air with help from a series of muscles that you can exercise just like the rest of your body. In fact, the best lung exercise is an action you do constantly, day in and day out—breathing! Below are some very simple breathing exercises you can do anywhere, along with some lifestyle changes that will boost your lung health:
- Strengthen the diaphragm muscle: People who consistently breathe from their belly have strong diaphragms and a greater lung capacity. They engage the diaphragm, which is a thin muscle that covers the space between your chest and abdomen. The diaphragm elongates the lungs to draw in oxygen, then pushes back up to expel carbon dioxide. You can strengthen this vital muscle by placing a hand on your gut to make sure it rises and falls with each deep breath. Gently apply pressure with your hand so the diaphragm contracts for every exhale.
- Stretch out your rib cage: This exercise will also help you develop greater lung capacity by giving the lungs more room to expand. Stand with good posture and place your hands on your hips. From there, inhale through your nose until the lungs are completely full. Hold in the breath as long as you can, then slowly release it through your mouth. In addition to increasing lung capacity, the rib stretch also develops your ability to fully exhale so carbon dioxide doesn’t accumulate in the lungs.
- Exercise on a regular basis: You can choose any exercise that gets your heart pumping to strengthen lung health. The activity can be something simple such as a bike ride or a long walk. These workout sessions don’t have to leave you feeling exhausted, but they should increase your heart rate. A high number of beats per minute will force your lungs to work harder in order to keep up with the increased demand for oxygen. Moderate exercise teaches your lungs how to more efficiently exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide within the bloodstream.
- Quit smoking: It’s easier said than done, but not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your lung health. Avoiding cigarettes and secondhand smoke prevents major lung damage. It’s never too late to show your respiratory system some kindness! People who quit smoking have a fraction of the risk smokers do for chronic lung diseases, and that risk continues to shrink the longer a person stays free of smoke. Even if you don’t smoke, avoid highly polluted areas and encourage loved ones to make healthy choices.
- Improve the air inside your home: Despite all the carbon emissions from traffic, indoor air is actually more polluted than it is outside! Thankfully, you can do a number of things to protect your lung tissue from toxic chemicals in the home. Replace your air filters and clean your home on a weekly basis to minimize dust, mold and pet dander. Instead of using candles or artificial perfumes, freshen the air with an essential oil diffuser.
You won’t experience drastic improvements in your lung health overnight. However, the best things in life are worth waiting for! Take it one day at a time, and eventually you’ll be able to look back and admire how far you’ve come. Proper lung health is a great example of something you work toward not for instant gratification, but for a heightened sense of wellbeing over the course of a lifetime.