“Take a deep breath”.
When you hear this, a sudden awareness comes to the mind. Most of the time, we hardly notice this function that is so essential for us to live. Hence, the importance of taking good care of our respiratory system. After all, we breathe in and out an average of 22,000 times a day.
Each of those breath counts.
Factors in Respiratory Health
Factors like genetics and family history may play a primary role in your respiratory health and function. Others, like smoking, air pollution, and obesity, are easier to control in order to promote optimal functioning of our respiratory system—and overall health.
Many physicians agree that most respiratory ailments can be well-managed if diagnosed early. Other respiratory illnesses can be prevented altogether, by taking targeted steps to improve our lung and overall respiratory function.
The Respiratory System
The respiratory system is formed by the nose, mouth, throat, trachea (windpipe), and lungs.
The lungs are two cone- shaped organs located in the chest cavity. The lungs have a spongy texture and when healthy, are pink-grayish in color. The right lung is divided into three nodes while the left one has only two and is a bit smaller to accommodate the heart. The lung’s well-being and proper function are essential for our respiratory health.
When we breathe in, air travels through the airways down to the trachea. From here, it’s divided into the left and right bronchi. The subdivision continues in the form of bronchioles. It then reaches the smallest part of the lungs: the alveolus (small air sacs), finally bringing air to the lungs.1
The lungs’ function is to infuse oxygen into the bloodstream when we breathe in. This fresh oxygen then travels via the circulatory system to all tissues and organs. The circulatory system also brings blood filled with carbon dioxide and waste back to the lungs, for these metabolic byproducts to be eliminated when we breathe out.
The human body has natural defense mechanisms to protect the lungs, by keeping germs and particles out. Sometimes however, we need to support this system.
Here are some recommendations that may help improve lung and respiratory health and function.
Don’t Smoke For Respiratory Health
Luckily the time when doctors advertise cigarettes is long gone. In the 1930s and 1940s, tobacco companies used doctors in their marketing campaigns. These recommend their brand as “less irritating” or “medically better for the throat”.
Today, extensive research demonstrates extremely damaging effects of smoking; nevertheless many people continue to smoke. When someone smokes cigarettes, they’re inhaling thousands of harmful chemicals including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. The lungs and other areas of health, can be severely damaged by these toxins. Smoking long-term can destroy respiratory health, with life-threatening consequences.
Second-hand Smoke And Vaping
Smokers aren’t the only ones at risk of respiratory diseases. Studies show that individuals exposed to secondhand smoke (SHS) can potentially develop lung infections and respiratory disorders. Moreover, children exposed to SHS increased their risk to develop tuberculosis (TB).2
E-cigarettes, also known as vaporizers, may be just as bad. In the beginning, e-cigarettes were thought to aid individuals in quitting smoking, and cause less damage to the lungs. However, people that never smoked before got caught up in vaping. With their never-ending choices of flavors, vaping became popular among young adults. Now, emerging reports link serious lung injuries to the chemicals in vaping products. While no large-scale studies have been conducted on the dangers of vaping, recent concerns resulted in the allocation of funding to explore the health impacts of vaping products.
Diet for Respiratory Health
It’s no surprise that what we eat has a direct effect on physical and mental health. This is also true for respiratory health. Fruits and vegetables together with vitamin C, and vitamin E may help to improve lung performance.4
Below are some foods that can assist with maintaining good respiratory health:
Beets and Beet Greens
This beautiful dark crimson-red root veggie is not only tasty but also full of dietary nitrates. Nitrates are known to reduce blood pressure, relax blood vessels, and maximize oxygen uptake.
The beet greens are great for the body too. They are loaded with vitamin C, carotenoid antioxidants, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are of crucial importance to lung health.5
Many health attributes have been given to the regular consumption of green tea, and respiratory health is one. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of green tea have shown to suppress pulmonary fibrosis (uncontrolled scarring and damage in the lungs). A small group study over a two week period was conducted in 2020, showing a reduction in the markers of pulmonary fibrosis.6
Exercise for Respiratory Health
Exercising isn't only good for thecardiovascular system— it’s also essential also for respiratory health. Physical exercise increases lung capacity and helps clean the lungs and oxygenate the body.
Most health guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five times a week. Aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities promote optimal lung function. When exercising, the breathing rate can go from 15 to 40-60 breaths a minute, giving a workout to the lungs, oxygenating tissues and eliminating more carbon dioxide.
Achieving stronger, healthier lungs through regular exercise can help improve respiratory health, fight disease, and improve the natural aging process.3
Breathing Exercises For Respiratory Health
As adults living in a hectic modern world, breathing often becomes shallow due to stress. Have you seen a baby breathing? How their belly fills with air like a balloon? This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and involves expanding your diaphragm lower during inhalation.
We were all born with an innate inclination to diaphragmatic breathing. This expanded form of breathing naturally increases lung capacity. Breathing exercises can make the diaphragm stronger and get the body used to breathing more deeply and more effectively.
Keep Away From Pollution for Respiratory Health
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 3 million people die a year due to complications directly linked to air pollution. Furthermore, an alarming 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution surpasses the WHO safety limits.7
Needless to say that air pollution can take a serious toll on respiratory health.
If you live in an urban or industrial area, it’s important to take certain precautions whenever possible to avoid airborne toxins including smoke, smog, and industrial emissions. If you live in a more rural area, air pollution can still come in the form of smoke from wildfires and natural burn activities.
- If you live in an urban area, avoid going out during peak traffic hours when auto pollution may be at its highest.
- Do not exercise next to heavy traffic. You may end up inhaling exhaust that comes out from cars.
- If work activities expose someone to air pollutants, such can be the case in industrial or construction jobs, take protective measures like wearing an N-95 mask or other ventilator to limit exposure to pollutants.
- Vacuum with a HEPA certified filter vacuum and dust the home at least once a week.
- Avoid using cleaning products that produce fumes. Switch to natural or ecological-friendly cleaning products.
- Consider investing in a HEPA certified air purifier to remove small airborne pollutants including dust, mold and germs.
- Increase ventilation by opening windows.
- Invest in ventilation around the home, like fans, exhaust hoods, and others.
- Make the home a smoke-free zone.
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1. Patra J, Bhatia M, Suraweera W, et al. Exposure to second-hand smoke and the risk of tuberculosis in children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 18 observational studies. PLoS Med. 2015;12(6):e1001835; discussion e1001835. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4452762/
2. How the lungs work. Nih.gov. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/how-lungs-work
3. European Respiratory Society. Your lungs and exercise. Breathe (Sheff). 2016;12(1):97-100. https://breathe.ersjournals.com/content/12/1/97
4. Romieu I. Nutrition and lung health. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2005;9(4):362-374. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15830741/
5. Lidder S, Webb AJ. Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway: Vascular effects of dietary nitrate. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013;75(3):677-696. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22882425/
6. Chapman HA, Wei Y, Montas G, et al. Reversal of TGFβ1-driven profibrotic state in patients with pulmonary fibrosis. N Engl J Med. 2020;382(11):1068-1070. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297220/
7. WHO releases country estimates on air pollution exposure and health impact. Who.int. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://www.who.int/news/item/27-09-2016-who-releases-country-estimates-on-air-pollution-exposure-and-health-impact