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Why lung health is so vital, and 3 steps to improve yours

Updated September 21, 2023 - 10:51 am

We all know the importance of brain health, gut health and heart health, but when it comes to lung health, it’s probably not something many of us think too much about.

But research shows that your lung health can predict how long you live. One study that involved a 30-year follow-up found that there is a direct link between lung function and mortality.

In 1960 and 1961, researchers looked at 2,273 men and women ages 15 to 96, gathering data on lifestyle, health and lung function. In 1990, a follow-up study indicated which participants had died and their cause of death. Results showed that the 20 percent of men with the poorest lung function at the start of the study were more than twice as likely to have died compared with men with the best lung function. Women with the poorest lung function were more than 1½ times more likely to have died.

Since lung health is key to living a long life, here are ways to keep yours healthy:

Why lung health is vital

“Your lungs don’t just help you breathe — they also help to deliver oxygen to every organ in your body,” says Dr. Robert Goldberg, a pulmonologist with Providence Mission Hospital. “Plus, they help to remove carbon dioxide as you exhale — this is incredibly important to your overall health. And your lungs help to protect your airways from harmful irritants and substances.”

Having healthy lungs also helps to reduce your risk of developing severe complications of any illnesses that enter your respiratory system, such as the common cold, Goldberg adds. That’s why it’s important to keep them healthy by not smoking and avoiding exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants that can cause respiratory damage, such as secondhand smoke and other chemicals. Get plenty of exercise, and avoid outdoor activities on days when there is poor air quality.

Poor lung health signs

One of the most important signs of poor lung health is having trouble breathing — this is incredibly serious, especially in older adults. It’s extremely important to contact your doctor immediately if it continues to be tough to breathe, as it could be a sign of asthma, lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Goldberg explains.

COPD, which is a group of diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, can cause a blockage in your airway and other breathing-related challenges. Other poor lung health symptoms include a chronic cough or chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing up blood. If you have any of these systems, make an appointment with your doctor, Goldberg says.

Improving lung health

Steer clear of toxic pollutants: Healthy lungs can stay healthy by avoiding toxic inhalational agents, including smoke, dust and other pathogens, explains Dr. Thomas Yadegar, pulmonologist and medical director of the intensive care unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center.

Engage in regular exercise and practice deep breathing techniques: Exercise and deep breathing exercises also promote healthy lung function. A simple tool to help recruit more oxygenation is 4-7-8 breathing, in which patients inhale deeply for four seconds, hold for seven seconds and exhale slowly for eight seconds, Yadegar explains.

Wash your hands regularly: You can help to prevent respiratory infections, especially during cold and flu season, by regularly washing your hands with soap and water, avoiding large crowds and getting an annual flu shot, Dr. Goldberg explains. And, if you do catch a cold or the flu, make sure to stay home to avoid exposing others to your illness.

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