We all take breathing for granted, in fact it is something we do so effortlessly.
The health of our lungs is vital to our overall state of wellness. As we age even if our lungs are functioning at full capacity we lose approximately 30 ml, or one ounce of Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV1), each year.
The FEV1 is the volume of air that can be forced out of our lungs in one second after taking a deep breath. This is a very important measurement that tells the functioning of the lungs. It has become a predictor of how well someone will do having surgery and can ultimately determine mortality.
Our heart and lungs work very closely together and the weakness of one or the other will cause an undue burden for the other.
What can we do to keep our lungs performing at the highest level despite the natural progression of aging?
Quitting smoking still remains on the top of the list for overall health improvement. If you haven’t quit now, what more evidence do you need?
Recent studies have shown that sitting is now the “new” smoking, meaning exercise and movement are key to longevity and vitality.
If it were possible to put all the benefits of exercise into a pill form, the pharmaceutical companies would have the most popular medication on the market since aspirin.
You don’t need to run a marathon or be a champion sprinter just get up and get moving. Exercise that makes your heart beat faster, like climbing stairs, riding a bike, or walking briskly, is very important for keeping your heart and lungs in good shape.
Research finds that walking about fifteen minutes at a time, three to four times a day, improved breathing in people with lung disease.
What we eat matters to the health of our lungs as well. Eating foods that contain protein are essential for keeping a strong diaphragm, the muscle that controls our breathing.
Dairy products, beans, eggs and meats are all good sources of protein. Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy type of fat, which gives you energy and also reduces inflammation. Flaxseed, olive oil, salmon, walnuts, and soy products are dietary sources of Omega-3.
Limit the amount of meat that you consume, cut back on sodium and salty foods. Transition to several smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones.
Also enjoy your meals at a leisurely pace as to not compromise your swallowing process.
Drink plenty of water as water remains the best expectorant for thinning mucus and making it easier to cough up.
Finally, dark grapes, berries, apples, onions, spinach, and green tea are beneficial for your lungs.
Throughout the day take in good deep breaths and expand your lungs.
Don’t be afraid to breathe from your belly at least five minutes every day. This type of breathing, called diaphragmatic breathing, promotes training and strengthening of your diaphragm so it requires less effort to take in each breath.
Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs and causing your stomach to get bigger. Breathe out and then repeat.
Your lungs will thank you!
Rita Heath is director of Cardiopulmonary Services at Carolinas Medical Center-Lincolnton.