Respiration provides oxygen to cells throughout the body. Without enough oxygen, people are more susceptible to health problems, including respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and even heart disease. Our ordinary breathing day in and day out is not enough to keep the flow of oxygen through the body at peak levels. At rest and during most daily activities, the lungs are at only 50% capacity, and just like the rest of your body, the lungs thrive during movement and activity.
Since regular daily activities don't help you make the most of your lungs, you need to challenge them with more strenuous activities.
To help counteract the buildup of toxins and tar in your lungs caused by environmental pollutants, allergens, dust, and cigarette smoke, you need to help your lungs clean themselves.
Follow these nine tips to help improve your lung health and keep these vital organs strong for life:
1. Diaphragmatic breathing
These techniques can be used by people with lung problems related to asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, as well as healthy individuals.
Diaphragmatic breathing uses the awareness of the diaphragm to separate the abdominal organs from the lungs.
By focusing on lowering your diaphragm as you inhale, you'll get a deeper inhale, a technique used by professional singers to increase lung capacity.
2. Simple deep breaths
Deep breathing can help you get closer to the full capacity of your lungs.
As you slowly inhale, consciously expand your abdomen while being aware of lowering your diaphragm. Next, spread your ribs so they float out like wings. Finally, allow your upper chest to expand and lift.
Then exhale as completely as possible, letting your chest drop, then contract your ribs, and finally, lift your stomach muscles inward and upward to lift your diaphragm and expel the last bit of air.
3. “Count” your breaths
You can also increase your lung capacity by increasing the time you take to inhale and exhale. Start by calculating how long it takes to take a natural breath. If you breathe in to count to five, breathe out to count to five. Try to keep them equal lengths.
Once you find your average breath count, add another count with each inhale and exhale until you can comfortably extend the time it takes to fill and empty your lungs.
The idea is to avoid straining or causing discomfort - it should be a gradual and simple process.
4. Watch your posture
Since lungs are soft structures, they only take up the space you create for them.
Occasionally you want to sit a little taller and reach overhead to make more room for your lungs. A simple trick to make more room for your lungs is to lean back slightly in a stable chair while you take a deep breath. Lift your chest and open the front of your body.
5. Stay hydrated
Getting enough water is just as important for your lungs as it is for the rest of your body.
Staying well hydrated by taking in fluids throughout the day helps keep the mucosal lining of the lungs thinner. This thinner lining helps the lungs function better.
Laughing is a great exercise to strengthen your abdominal muscles and increase your lung capacity. It also clears your lungs by expelling enough stale air to allow fresh air to enter more areas of your lungs.
7. Stay active
Regular, moderate-intensity activity is great for your lungs, and when you increase your daily activity, you accomplish three things at once: healthy lungs, a healthier heart, and a better mood.
Get at least 20 minutes a day of sustained, moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling.
8. Join a breathing club
If you are unable to move due to lung problems, you can join a breathing club.
These are support groups for people with lung and breathing problems. You can learn breathing techniques and receive encouragement and information to help you stay healthy and improve your quality of life.
9. Pulmonary Rehabilitation
For people with chronic lung disease such as asthma, post-COVID-19 lung disease, or lung cancer, a hospital-based pulmonary rehabilitation program can help you return to a more active lifestyle.
Through pulmonary rehabilitation, you will participate in a 10 to 18-week personalized program of exercise, education, counseling and support designed to help you regain strength and endurance, and address emotional disorders that impact your health and well-being.
The doctor will see you now
If your lungs are damaged or you have a serious illness like COPD or lung cancer, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath during simple activities
- pain when breathing
- Dizziness caused by changes in activity
- persistent cough
- wheezing from exercise
- exercise-related cough
- Pain in the airways (the path that air takes in and out of the lungs)
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your primary care doctor. They can perform tests to find out the cause or refer you to a specialist if needed.
If you have a history of smoking, discuss with your doctor how often you should have your lungs checked. The good news is that if you quit smoking, you can recover from your injuries and track your progress during your checkup.