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!
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.