We often don’t consider the vital role our lungs play in keeping us strong and well. But respiratory diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in the world. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. About 65 million people suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and three million die from it each year, making it the third leading cause of death worldwide. Rarely do we think about protecting and maintaining the health of our lungs, but it’s time to change that. The truth is, like the rest of our body, our lungs need care and attention to keep them healthy and strong.
Don’t smoke or stop smoking
Cigarette smoking is the major cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It also makes those diseases more severe. Smoking causes about 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths. It also causes the lungs to age more rapidly. If you smoke, it’s never too late to quit. The American Lung Association (ALA) states that within just 12 hours of quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. Within a few months, your lung function begins to improve. And it only gets better the longer you stay smoke-free.
Regular exercise is probably the most important thing you can do for lung health. Just as exercise keeps your body in shape, it keeps your lungs in shape too. Regular aerobic exercise that gets you breathing hard is important. The more you exercise, the more efficient your lungs become. Creating strong, healthy lungs helps you resist aging and disease. Exercise can help slow the progression of lung disease if you develop it and keep you active longer.
Exposure to pollutants in the air can damage your lungs and accelerate aging. Reduce your exposure by avoiding secondhand smoke and avoiding outside activity during peak air pollution times. The U.S. Consumer Production Safety Commission reports that indoor pollution is typically worse than outdoor. Make your home and car smoke-free and keep them as clean as possible. Get your home tested for radon. Use an aromatherapy diffuser and essential oils to naturally scent the air. Use natural cleaning products. Make sure you have adequate fans, exhaust hoods and other ventilation throughout your home.
Infections can be dangerous for your lungs, especially as you age. Those who already have lung diseases are particularly at risk for infections. The best way to avoid lung infections is to keep your hands clean. Avoid crowds during the cold and flu season. Drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables as they contain nutrients that help boost your immune system. Stay up to date with vaccinations. Get a flu shot each year, and if you’re 65 or older, get a pneumonia vaccination.
Deep breathing helps clear the lungs and creates full oxygen exchange. The ALA agrees that breathing exercises can make your lungs more efficient. Sit quietly and slowly breathe in through your nose. Then exhale twice as long through your mouth. Be aware of your belly rising and falling as you practice.
Get Regular Check-ups & Screenings
Regular check-ups help prevent diseases, even when you are feeling well. This is especially true for lung disease, which sometimes goes undetected until it is serious. Screenings detect lung cancer early when it is more likely to be curable. If caught before it spreads, the likelihood of surviving five years or more improves to 59 percent.
Annual screenings are also recommended for individuals whose age and smoking history place them at higher risk for lung cancer. Some research supports screening people who may be younger or who have smoked less but also have another factor that increases their risk of lung cancer, such as a diagnosis of COPD, a family history of lung cancer or job exposure to cancer-causing agents like radon and asbestos. As lung cancer can be aggressive and advance quickly between stages, it is important to be tested every year until you are out of the recommended age range or for as long as your doctor recommends.
The truth is that your lungs, just like your heart, joints, and other parts of your body, age with time. Adopting healthy habits can help you maintain the health of your lungs, while keeping them working optimally even into your senior years. And if you’re a current or former smoker over the age of 50 or have other risk factors, talk to your doctor about low-dose CT lung cancer screenings. The Kirkland Cancer Center has the area’s only Low-Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening Program in West Tennessee. To find a provider, click here.