“When it comes to lung health, prevention is the most important thing,” according to National Jewish Health pulmonologist Rebecca Keith, MD. It may not be something you think of every day, but making sure your lungs stay healthy should be an integral part of how you plan out your lifestyle. Here are five everyday tips that will help you take charge of your health and breathe your best.
1. Avoid Smoking/Vaping
By now, most Americans are probably familiar with the health impacts of smoking. Even though information campaigns and quitlines are prevalent in the U.S., smoking continues to rank among the leading factors behind preventable death. According to the CDC, 480,000 Americans die every year due to smoking-related illnesses.
Vaping also poses a danger to our lungs. Popcorn lung, for instance, is a devastating lung disease associated with regular vape usage. “If you want to keep your lungs healthy and strong, it’s best to completely avoid smoking or vaping,” said Dr. Keith.
2. Vaccinate Against COVID/Flu
Respiratory viruses like COVID and the flu have the potential to cause other illnesses that can significantly damage the lungs. For instance, sometimes COVID symptoms can linger for months after infection. This phenomenon, known as long COVID, can weaken the lungs and cause other complications. For this reason, vaccination is an important step in safeguarding your lung health.
“It’s very important that people take vaccination seriously,” said Dr. Keith. “It’s one of the easiest ways to take control of your health and protect yourself.”
According to Dr. Keith, practicing good hand hygiene lowers your risk of being infected with a respiratory illness. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. This is especially true during colder months when respiratory illnesses like the cold and flu are more prevalent.
Use hand sanitizer or scrub your hands with soap and water before and after you’re in contact with others, preparing food, using the restroom and going inside after being outdoors. Refrain from touching your face as much as possible, especially before you’ve washed your hands.
The benefits of regular exercise on every aspect of health are well documented. Your lungs are a big part of this picture. Exercise improves circulation and can strengthen the tissue in and around your lungs. According to Dr. Keith, “exercise helps your body be more efficient and helps your heart, lungs and muscles act together so that you're able to do more without becoming short of breath.”
Cardio workouts like running, hiking or swimming are excellent choices. Even a routine brisk walk can do wonders for your lungs. Make sure not to push yourself too hard if you have an underlying condition. As always, consult with your physician if you have any concerns and before starting a new exercise routine.
5. Monitor Air Pollution
New studies on the effects of airborne pollution reveal the damage that they can cause to your lungs. There’s evidence that airborne pollution can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. “If you have an underlying disease when there’s heavy air pollution outside, it can make it harder to exercise,” added Dr. Keith. “It can also lead to a worsening of symptoms for either COPD or asthma.”
It’s important to be mindful of the Air Quality Index and watch for local updates on wildfires that affect your area.
You can find more wellness tips by visiting our health library here and searching for a condition.