Poor lung function can lead to a host of problems, while serious lung diseases, such as lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), become increasingly common with age.
Keen to breathe fresh air into your lung-health habits? Here are nine ways to help keep your lungs strong and healthy:
1. Quit smoking
There’s no way around it - Sarah MacFadyen, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the British Lung Foundation, says: “If you smoke, it’s time to quit. It’s the most important step people can take to improve their lung health.” Cigarettes are proven to have a very damaging effect on lungs, and more than four in five lung cancer patients are smokers. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of methods out there to help you in your efforts to quit, from nicotine-replacement products and e-cigarettes to behavioural therapy and NHS Smokefree (nhs.uk/smokefree) support services, so use the New Year as an opportunity to finally leave the cigarettes behind.
2. Belly breathing
This simple exercise strengthens your diaphragm, which holds the most important muscles for breathing. Just lie down, place a hand on your stomach, and inhale and exhale slowly and deeply for five minutes. It’s that easy – but doing this every day helps improve your diaphragm capacity which enables air to pass through your lungs more easily and effectively (deep-breathing is great for combating stress and anxiety too!).
3. Go for a run
“Staying active and doing some exercise can also be extremely helpful in maintaining healthy lungs. In winter, it keeps the blood circulating and the body warm,” says MacFayden. Regular cardio workouts are a great way to improve lung function, as they boost your aerobic capacity and improve your breathing in general. Try to go for a short jog or run three times a week, increasing your distance gradually. And if running is not an option for you, don’t worry – a daily walk, brisk if you can manage it, can also work wonders for your health.
4. Avoid air pollution
This might sound easier said than done for those living in busy towns and cities, but all is not lost, according to MacFadyen: “It’s vital that we all take steps to protect our lungs by reducing our exposure to toxic air. We can do this by avoiding busy roads while walking and cycling, and opting for cleaner, greener ways to travel.”
5. Take Vitamin D supplements
Studies have suggested that Vitamin D can help reduce the risk of COPD and plays a role in supporting lung health. Unfortunately, most of our vitamin D comes from sunlight – so, during winter time, we don’t get enough of it in Britain. That’s why it’s important to take a good quality, daily vitamin D supplement to ensure our bodies are reaping all the benefits that those living in more enviable climates receive.
6. Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated helps just about every part of your body, including your lungs. Good hydration helps clear mucus and keep blood-flow smooth, and also reduces the likelihood of respiratory infections. Try to drink two litres a day – that’s about eight glasses.
7. Eat your greens
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower, are especially good at boosting lung health. They’re a good source of antioxidants, and they contain chlorophyll, which has benefits for blood flow.
8. Improve your posture
Every breath you take is a workout for your diaphragm and lungs, so give them as much help as possible by fixing your frame. When you maintain a good posture, oxygen passes through your lungs more efficiently and requires less energy. Sit up properly at work, and try not to slump when you walk, and your lungs will thank you.
It’s certainly the most appealing way to improve lung health – studies have shown that laughter may well be the best medicine, as the action exercises your abdominal muscles and forces air through your lungs, to give them a short and sharp workout. Who said maintaining good lung health was a chore?