How the lungs work, and how to keep them in tip-top shape
There’s no getting around it: Covid-19 is a respiratory virus that can wreak havoc on your lungs. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to strengthen your lungs, whether you’re a smoker, a senior, or just want to practice good lung health.
The importance of lung health
Because of the nasty effects the virus has on lungs, the first cases of Covid-19 were misdiagnosed as pneumonia. Instead, Covid-19 can actually cause pneumonia, which greatly increases a patient’s chances of suffering from long-term lung damage. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to strengthen your lungs to make sure you’re strong and healthy, and able to fight off anything that comes your way. But before we get into that, you might be asking yourself, how do lungs work?
What is the main function of lungs?
Understanding how your lungs work is important to tailoring what you need to do to keep them healthy. In short, lungs take fresh oxygen into your body, and push excess carbon dioxide out. A more complete description can be found below (or in the lung function diagram above):
- Breathe in – Using muscles in your rib cage (especially your diaphragm), oxygen is pulled into your lungs. Mucous in your mouth and nose moisten the air, and trap particles such as dust and dirt. Covid-19 attacks this mucous, creating a dry cough.
- Oxygen meets your lungs – Air travels down your trachea (windpipe), which separates the air between your right and left lungs. Then oxygen is divided even more, and more, and more again through different branches of bronchi.
- Deeper we go – At the tiny ends of bronchi lie your alveolar, which are tiny clusters that look like a bunch of balloons. Once here, tiny blood vessels (over 300-million of them) carry the oxygen into your bloodstream, oxygenating your blood. In severe cases, Covid-19 is able to penetrate all the way to your alveolar.
- Breathe out – Relaxing your muscles in your rib cage (especially your diaphragm), pushes out what’s left. Typically, this is carbon dioxide, but it’s really any excess gas other than oxygen.
How to keep the respiratory system healthy
It goes without saying that you need oxygen to live, but you might be wondering what you can do to make sure your respiratory system is performing at optimal function. Well, there are several things you can do to keep your lungs healthy, and we’re happy to share the best practices for clean breathing, as presented by the American Lung Association.
We are what we breathe, and while the oxygen outside is getting cleaner with less human activity, the air in our homes is getting thicker. These are some factors you should consider in order to keep the air in your home clean:
- Ventilation is important – Air flow is extremely important, such as keeping windows open at opposite ends of your home. Small rooms are especially susceptible to stale air, trapping harmful particles. With all the cleaning going on inside, make sure your windows are open when you’re using bleach.
- Plants are good but watch out for what kind – Plants are a natural air filter, but if you’re someone who suffers from allergies, be careful they don’t produce spores, pollen, or other irritants in your home.
- Use an air filter – Air filters are selling like hot cakes right now, and for good reason. They remove small allergens and harmful particles from the air over and over again. There are all shapes and sizes of air filters for all kinds of rooms and different needs. Make sure you do your research prior to purchasing one.
Don’t smoke, and how to detox your lungs after quitting smoking
This is an obvious one: If you want healthy lungs, don’t smoke. Okay, much easier said than done. If you want to quit smoking or strengthen your lungs after smoking, use these tools for help (not a smoker? There’s more helpful information below this section).
- Quit smoking using technology – Apps for quitting smoking are on the rise, and there’s plenty of evidence to show they’re highly effective. Take the “Smoke Free” App for example — it tracks how many cigarettes you’re not smoking, adds that up into money you’re saving, and allows you to log your cravings. It’s the highest rated app for quitting smoking that we could find.
- Quit smoking using nicotine control – Yes, the tried and true methods for quitting smoking are still out there, and are highly effective. Nicorette for example, offers a number of methods to quit smoking, including inhalers, gum, lozenges, and patches. Take their quiz to see which method works best for you.
- How NOT TO detox after quitting – Yes, it’s possible to naturally detox your lungs, but proceed with caution. Any product offering a “quick fix” is probably bogus, as there is no such thing as a “quick fix” for lungs. Also, aerosol or vaping products that contain “essential oils” should be avoided, as inhaling any kind of oil or lipids is potentially harmful.
- How TO detox after quitting – We’ll get to nutrition and lung exercises in a moment (see below). For now, drinking mullein tea is especially beneficial, as it’s currently used to treat tuberculosis, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Ginger and licorice are also helpful, as ginger may help prevent cancer in the lungs, while licorice reduces phlegm, and is an anti-inflammatory.
Nutrition can improve lung health
Overall health is a big part of lung health, and what you put into your body is a major factor. For lung health, specifically, doctors recommend that you eat foods rich in anti-oxidants and contain a number of natural vitamins. Check out these Do’s and Don’ts of a healthy diet for your lungs:
- DO eat fruits and vegetables – For the highest levels of anti-oxidants, a good rule of thumb is “the brighter the better.” Blueberries, apples, and citrus fruit are great for fruits, and bell peppers, squash, and leafy greens for vegetables.
- DON’T eat red meat – Since this is next to impossible for many carnivores, consider eating lean beef that’s grass fed, and hormone and antibiotic free. Poultry is a great source of Vitamin A, just remove the skin, and make sure it’s hormone and antibiotic free.
- DO eat fatty fish – Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and trout, are rich in Omega-3, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory. This attack on inflammation makes it easier to exercise, which is essential for lung health (more on that in a moment).
- DON’T eat processed and pre-packaged food – This one is a challenge right now with families being forced to stay at home, but additives and preservatives contribute to lung sensitivity. Just try to avoid the whites, such as pasta, white bread, and white rice.
- DO eat beans and oregano – Beans contain a lot of protein, and other vitamins and minerals essential for lung health. Oregano produces acids that are natural decongestants, and helps kill bacteria that’s harmful to the lungs.
Anyone who’s taken a yoga or Lamaze class knows at least a little bit about deep breathing exercises. Lung exercises are probably the most active thing you could be doing to increase the capacity and improve the health of your lungs. Here are some helpful tools:
- Actual exercise – Regular exercise will improve your lung’s health, as well as the function of your other major internal systems. As a general rule, as set by the American Heart Association, do 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, or 75-minutes of vigorous exercise every week.
- Deep breathing exercises – There are several different kinds of deep breathing exercises, including pursed lips breathing, humming breath, and diaphragmatic exercises. They’re all designed to increase your lung’s capacity. If this sounds difficult, you could always join a breathing club.
- Join a breathing club – The American Lung Association logs breathing club events all over the country, just type in your zip code to find them. You can also do your own research to find one and sign up. It’s not always easy changing your habits on your own, so why not get some help from people with the same goals?
There’s so much you can do to keep your lungs healthy, and make them more powerful! Whether it’s cleaning the air in your home, quitting smoking (or detoxing afterwards), improving your nutrition, or breathing exercises, you now have the knowledge to breathe easier.