5 Simple Tips To Strengthen Lung Health
Did you know that every single day, you take more than 17,000 breaths? Most of us don’t think much about breathing, but it’s a huge part of our everyday life.
By learning a little bit about how breathing works and how we can support optimal lung health, we can rest a little easier when we get sick knowing that we’re supporting our body as much as we can.
As a functional medicine practitioner, it’s my job to give you tools that help you feel more in charge of your health, including taking preventative steps to ensure optimal health.
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Here’s What Happens When You Breathe
When you inhale, your lungs take in oxygen from the air. That oxygen passes through the delicate barrier between your lungs and your bloodstream where it is then delivered directly to your cells (every single one of our trillions of cells rely on oxygen to function). Almost simultaneously, your lungs also exhale carbon dioxide out of your body. Why? Because as you likely already know, carbon dioxide is toxic in high amounts. This is one of the reasons climate change is so concerning; it leads to increased concentrations of greenhouse gasses (like carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere, which can cause heat waves, volatile temperature fluctuations, forest fires, floods and droughts, and increased air pollution, which all put our respiratory health at great risk. (1)
Besides the most obvious issue of too much carbon dioxide, there are other things that can harm our lungs, such as:
1. Environmental toxins
Every day we are exposed to an onslaught of environmental chemicals, which we breathe straight into our lungs. These chemicals come from everyday fumes from items like hair spray, dry shampoo, nail polish, gasoline, and car exhaust (another source of carbon dioxide).
Mold is another common culprit behind poor lung health. The mycotoxins in mold can get into the lungs and cause scarring, which can make you more likely to develop lung cancer.
Smoking is probably #1 on the list of lung-damaging activities. It’s the leading cause of lung cancer, causing 80 to 90% of all cases. Even secondhand smoke can increase a person’s risk for lung cancer by 20 to 30%. (2)
Some people are genetically predisposed to lung issues. In fact, about 8% of lung cancers are hereditary. (3) Scientists have looked further into this and found a few specific mutations that are linked to lung cancer, including:
- EGFR: There are 10 types of EGFR gene mutations and all are linked to lung cancer. Most common in women, EGFR changes the way the body produces a specific protein that’s responsible for helping cells defend themselves against toxins.
- KRAS: This gene affects a protein that helps with cell signaling. KRAS mutations often occur alongside EGFR mutations.
- ALK This gene affects how the body facilitates cell growth and division.
- BRCA2: You may already know this gene as the one that increases your risk of breast cancer. Well, studies have shown that those with this mutation also have a higher risk of lung cancer, especially if they also smoke.
It’s important to understand how your genetics affect the overall picture of your lung health. That said, genetics aren’t everything! In fact, in almost all situations the lifestyle choices you make FAR outweigh whatever genetic programming you may have.
With that in mind, let’s talk about how you can support long-term lung health. In fact, there are 5 highly effective ways to strengthen your lungs, including:
1. Make sure you exercise
Aerobic exercise gives your lungs a workout, which strengthens them and expands their capacity. I recommend cycling, running, dancing, or playing a sport that gets your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day. Even walking can be great aerobic exercise!
2. Do regular breathing exercises
Deep breathing exercises like the 4-7-8 breath can help maintain healthy oxygen levels but they also expand your lung capacity similarly to exercise.
3. Avoid lung irritants
None of us can avoid all lung irritants. They’re everywhere! But there are some that are under your control. You can get a great HEPA air filter for inside your home and switch to clean beauty and cleaning products.
4. Stop smoking
Avoid any time of smoking that can irritate your lungs. This includes cigarettes as well as vape pens! It’s also best to limit your time around people who smoke as much as possible to avoid any secondhand smoke exposure.
5. Be wary of outdoor air pollution exposure
Get in the habit of checking the air quality index in your area every morning when you check the weather. If the index is poor, try to avoid exercising outside or spending a lot of time outdoors that day. This one simple habit can greatly reduce your exposure to outdoor air pollution.
Luckily, as we learned here, there’s quite a bit we can do to give our lungs the support they need. I hope you take some of these steps and apply them to your own life — if only for a little extra peace of mind!
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- D'Amato G, Pawankar R, Vitale C, et al. Climate Change and Air Pollution: Effects on Respiratory Allergy. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2016;8(5):391-395. doi:10.4168/aair.2016.8.5.391
- Alberg AJ, Brock MV, Ford JG, Samet JM, Spivack SD. Epidemiology of lung cancer: Diagnosis and management of lung cancer, 3rd ed: American College of Chest Physicians evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2013;143(5 Suppl):e1S-e29S. doi:10.1378/chest.12-2345
- Kanwal M, Ding XJ, Cao Y. Familial risk for lung cancer. Oncol Lett. 2017 Feb;13(2):535-542. doi: 10.3892/ol.2016.5518. Epub 2016 Dec 20. PMID: 28356926; PMCID: PMC5351216.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.