The average person inhales and exhales around 20,000 times a day, taking in more than 2,000 gallons of air—enough to oxygenate the life-sustaining blood that is delivered to cells throughout your body.
Breathing is the essence of life. You can live more than three weeks without food and about three days without water but only three minutes without air. Supporting lung health is obviously important for all aspects of your health.
Here are seven tips for avoiding lung problems and promoting respiratory health.
1. Avoid Anything That Aggravates Your Breathing
Do your best to avoid anything that aggravates your breathing. Common lung irritants include tree and grass pollen, smoke from cigarettes and fires, mold and mycotoxins from water-damaged homes, animals, and indoor pollutants.
Another often-neglected culprit is food allergies. For example, reactions to dairy, which are not uncommon, may cause excess mucus production that affects the lungs. So, it is also important to identify food allergies and sensitivities and avoid those that cause respiratory symptoms.
2. Invest in a High-Quality Air Purifier
Air purifiers help clean the air around you by removing particulate matter, pollen, mold spores, smoke, and other environmental toxicants. Reducing contaminants in the air helps decrease airway and sinus reactivity so the lungs and sinuses do not have to work overtime.
Look for an air purifier with a HEPA filter. These fine mesh filters are certified to collect 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 micrometers in diameter. This includes not only the usual suspects like dust, pollen, and animal dander, but also the fine particulate matter that is a risk factor not only for lung problems but also for cardiovascular disease.
3. Exercise to Improve Lung Function
Aerobic exercises like jogging, brisk walking, and cycling improve cardiorespiratory fitness—the ability to supply oxygen to the muscles and organs during sustained physical activity. In addition to supporting your heart and circulatory system, exercise also helps keep your lungs active and healthy.
The best exercise to improve lung function is any activity you will actually do. Find something that you enjoy, create a schedule, and stick with it. Aim for 30 minutes five days a week of mixed aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
4. Train Your Lungs to Breathe Better
Intuitive as breathing is, most of us don’t breathe properly. We generally take shallow quick breaths, rather than allowing the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs, to properly expand the belly and fill the lungs with air.
There are many diaphragmatic breathing and meditation practices that can help “exercise” your lungs. I personally use a breath-pacing app called Breathing Zone, which gives visual and auditory cues to take 5.5 slow and controlled breaths per minute. This slower pace of breathing improves autonomic nervous system tone and allows me to breathe more fully and efficiently.
5. Laughter Enhances Respiratory Health
Laugh whenever the opportunity arises. It may sound strange that I’m including laughter as a tip for lung health, but it’s been shown that laughing strengthens the diaphragm. When you laugh, the muscles surrounding the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems contract, causing stale air to leave the lungs and fresh air to enter.
Respiratory health is just one of laughter’s benefits. A good laugh also increases the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body. Plus, endorphins are released, which help counterbalance stress and improve mood.
6. Wash Your Hands with Soap and Warm Water
Although the pandemic is winding down and we are settling back into a normal routine of life, viruses and bacteria that can cause respiratory distress are still around. Washing your hands with soap and warm water is a basic step toward maintaining healthy lungs and airways.
This simple, yet powerful practice is especially important during cold and flu season, as removing germs from your hands will reduce the risk of developing respiratory infections.
7. Take Lung Support Supplements
For extra protection—especially if you have allergies, asthma, frequent respiratory infections, or other lung problems—consider taking targeted nutrients, botanical medicines, and other natural compounds that enhance lung and sinus function. Supplements that support lung health include:
- Quercetin is a flavonoid found in many foods, including onions and apples. I recommend quercetin for lung health because its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help guard against multiple respiratory disorders. Quercetin also helps protect the endothelial layer of blood vessels, which supports cardiovascular function.
- Black cumin seed extract oil packs a punch with its immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine effects. Studies of black cumin seed oil for lung problems reveal that it helps reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis and improves some measures of pulmonary function in people with asthma.
- Bromelain, an enzyme extracted from pineapple, is a popular natural ingredient for reducing inflammation. Bromelain’s benefits for the lungs include anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on allergic airway disease.
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that supports glutathione production and acts as an anti-inflammatory in the lungs. NAC also has expectorant properties, which means it helps break up and remove mucus in the airways. Research supports its use specifically for chronic bronchitis.
- Andrographis is a botanical medicine extract that is known as an antimicrobial and immune-stimulating agent. It has been demonstrated to be helpful with uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infections.
- Boswellia/quince extract (AlvioLIfe) contains Ayurvedic herbs that have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve several parameters of lung function. It is especially useful in the management of mild to moderate asthma.
Healthy Lungs Recap
It’s easy to take your lungs for granted—as long as allergies, asthma, a respiratory infection, or a serious lung disease doesn’t make breathing a struggle.
Unfortunately, these and other lung problems affect tens of millions of Americans, and chronic lower respiratory diseases are our sixth leading cause of death.
This underscores the importance of being proactive about lung health. Make a concerted effort to identify and avoid lung irritants. Improve your cardiorespiratory fitness with exercise and proper breathing. Take steps to reduce your risk of respiratory infections. When challenges arise, support your respiratory tract with targeted supplements.
Finally, from time to time pause, take a deep, slow breath, and be grateful for the miracle and blessing of breathing.