By Megan Moore, RDN, LD, CDE
Take a really big deep breath. Let it out―slowly. Repeat.
If you can easily do this, then thank the Lord, and don’t take it for granted! Over 20% of Americans suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, and taking simple, refreshing deep breaths is not taken for granted.
Chronic lower respiratory diseases (including asthma) were the fourth leading cause of death last year in America, following heart disease, cancer, and unintentional injuries.1
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the medical costs associated with COPD and asthma are significant and on the rise. Researchers think the yearly cost of asthma in the United States is around $56 billion2, and project the annual cost of COPD to reach $49 billion next year.3
National Respiratory Care Week is October 20-26, and it is a great chance to remind yourself of some important things you can do to lower your risk of lung disease. Here are some key ways to keep your lungs healthy.
Just Say No
Cigarette smoking is the main cause of lung disease. Smoking or consistent exposure to second-hand smoke causes swelling and inflammation in the lungs, which can lead to chronic bronchitis and COPD. Over time, cigarette smoke destroys lung tissue and may result in lung cancer. This is a primary reason why Medi-share members believe in a lifestyle free of smoking or other tobacco use.
Second-hand smoke is especially toxic to children because their lungs are not mature yet. Make sure no one smokes in your home or your car. The good news is if you smoke, it is never too late to benefit from quitting!
A note on E-cigarettes: E-cigarettes produce a number of dangerous chemicals, which can also cause lung disease.4
The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a consensus study report in 2018 that reviewed over 800 different studies. That report made clear that e-cigarettes both contain and emit a number of potentially toxic substances. The Academies' report also states there is moderate evidence that youth who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk for cough and wheezing and an increase in asthma exacerbations.5
Avoid Indoor Pollutants
Indoor pollutants can trigger asthma attacks and cause or worsen lung disease. Here are some common household triggers to watch out for:
- Chemicals in the home (cleaning agents, scented candles, incense, hairspray, air freshener, perfumes, paint, pesticides)
- Radon (use a radon test kit to test the air in your home)
- Mold (prevent mold by keeping your house dry and well ventilated with fans and dehumidifiers)
- Dust mites (wash bed linens at least once per week in hot water)
- Indoor pets (if you do have an indoor pet, bathe them weekly and vacuum regularly)
Minimize Exposure to Unhealthy Air
The air quality outside can vary from day to day and sometimes is unhealthy to breathe. Keep an eye on local weather forecasts and pollen counts, and stay indoors on days when the counts are high. Also, avoid exposure to outdoor burning, campfires, and other smoky areas.
Guard Your Immune System
A simple cold or upper respiratory infection can sometimes become severe. By washing your hands frequently with soap and hot water, avoiding crowds during cold and flu season, you can help protect yourself from getting sick.
You can also add certain foods into your regular diet to boost your immune system. Foods high in vitamin C, antioxidants, zinc, B-vitamins, and probiotics will help you fight off viruses and infections.7 Try including elderberries, strawberries, watermelon, oranges, spinach, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, green tea, sweet potatoes, garlic, pumpkin seeds, steel-cut oats, and plain yogurt regularly to get plenty of these key immune-boosting nutrients.
You already know that exercise is good for you, but did you realize that exercise can also help keep your lungs strong and healthy?
National guidelines recommend that all adults get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. Some examples of moderate activity include walking briskly, bicycling, gardening, dancing, and vigorous housecleaning.
Both aerobic activities and muscle-strengthening activities can benefit your lungs. Your lungs will become stronger as you improve your level of physical fitness, and then you will be able to easily do all the activities you enjoy doing with family and friends!
Things to remember:
- Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.
- Avoid exercising outside when the pollution levels are high or the air quality is poor. Try walking inside a shopping mall or exercising inside a gym instead.
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, https://www.aafa.org/cost-of-asthma-on-society/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/copd/infographics/copd-costs.html
- Ogunwale, Mumiye A et al. (2017) Aldehyde Detection in Electronic Cigarette Aerosols. ACS omega 2(3): 1207-1214. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.6b00489].
- NAM Report - https://www.nap.edu/resource/24952/012318ecigaretteConclusionsbyEvidence.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Common Asthma Triggers, cdc.gov?asthma/triggers.html
- Ann Nutr Metab. 2007;51(4):301-23. Epub 2007 Aug 28, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17726308