How to Take Good Care of Your Lungs

Three Methods:Avoiding Substances Harmful to Your LungsTaking Steps to Promote Lung HealthUsing Strategies to Reduce Exposure to Pollution

You take over six million breaths every year.[1] Each one of those breaths is essential to providing your body with the oxygen that keeps every single one of your cells alive. By knowing the common harmful substances many people breathe on a daily basis, as well as the activities that promote lung health, you can start taking better care of your lungs today!

Method 1
Avoiding Substances Harmful to Your Lungs

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    Quit smoking. The single best thing you can do for your lungs is to quit smoking or (better yet) never start. Cigarette smoking in particular is a major cause of lung cancer and COPD. Smokers have a 20 times higher risk of developing lung cancer and COPD than non-smokers.[2]
    • Lung cancer is when cells grow out of control and form tumors in the lungs. These tumors interfere with normal lung functioning, such as breathing. If the cancer metastasizes, then it may affect other organs and tissues, such as the breasts.[3]
    • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) causes excess mucus, difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. This disease worsens over time.[4]
    • While cigarette smoking receives the most negative attention, keep in mind that no form of smoking is safe. You should also avoid pipes, cigars, marijuana smoking, etc.[5]
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    Avoid all contact with secondhand smoke. While not smoking is a great start, you should also avoid all contact with sources or secondhand smoke, such as in bars, casinos, and other socially acceptable environments for smoking. Nonsmokers who frequently inhale secondhand smoke have a 20 percent higher risk of developing lung cancer than nonsmokers who never encounter it.[6]
    • Though studies are new, many experts believe that people, especially babies and children, should also stay away from third hand smoke. This is the residual toxins and chemical compounds that stick to clothing, hair, carpet, walls, etc. even after a cigarette has been extinguished.[7][8] The lingering smell of a cigarette even after cigarette smoke has dissipated is the telltale sign of secondhand smoke.
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    Avoid exposure to outdoor air pollution. While avoiding all exposure to carbon dioxide and other common air pollutants is virtually impossible, you can take steps to reduce your exposure. AirNow is a government-run website that provides realtime updates regarding air quality all across the United States.[9] You can check this to determine the air quality in your city before planning to spend time outside.
    • Ozone is another common air pollutant, and stagnant summertime weather systems can often trap ozone and other pollutants around a city. Be especially aware of the air quality in your area from late spring into the warmest summer months due to this phenomenon.[10]
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    Eliminate exposure to indoor air pollution. Air pollution isn’t just an outdoor concern. Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, pet dander, and mold are all common sources of indoor air pollution.[11] By eliminating these sources, cleaning regularly, and changing the air filters in your home often, you can reduce indoor air pollution considerably.
    • Consider getting an air purifier for your home to help filter out indoor air pollution, such as smoke, mold, and pet dander.
    • Chemicals from home cleaning supplies, paint, and other common household items can also irritate your lungs or trigger conditions such as asthma. Always carefully read and follow the instructions for using these products in areas with proper ventilation.
    • You can find more information on improving the indoor air quality in your home via the EPA.
    • Radon is a naturally occurring element present in some homes that effects indoor air quality. It is associated with increased risks of lung cancer.[12] You can find radon detectors at most home improvement stores if you want to test the levels present in your own home.
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    Eliminate occupational exposure to carcinogens and pollutants. Many of those who work in mining, labs, or industrial settings commonly come into contact with large quantities of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals and other pollutants. Always take the proper workplace precautions in situations that call for respirators, fume hoods, and other safety devices.
    • Asbestos, arsenic, nickel, and chromium are just a few of the workplace chemicals associated with lung cancer and other lung complications.[13]
    • Lung cancer and COPD may also develop as a result of exposure to these substances.
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    Avoid inhaling other irritants. Human lungs simply aren’t meant to inhale a wide array of substances. Cover your mouth and nose whenever you’re working with or in the same space as any small particles you may potentially inhale. Additionally, never suppress a cough in the presence of a foreign substance since this is your body’s way of expelling it. These particles include:
    • Talcum or baby powder: these have microscopic crushed rocks that become trapped in your lungs. Use a corn starch-based baby powder instead.
    • Fiberglass: Fiberglass can make tiny cuts in your lungs if inhaled.

Method 2
Taking Steps to Promote Lung Health

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    Breathe deeply more often. The act of breathing supplies oxygen to your entire body. Breathing deeply uses the entire capacity of your lungs to oxygenate blood. Though normal breathing levels aren’t unhealthy, deep breathing reaches the peak level of oxygen flowing through your body.[14]
    • Pay special attention to your diaphragm while slowly inhaling and exhaling full deep breaths. Feel your diaphragm lowering while you inhale and exhale fully until you feel your stomach muscles tighten and your diaphragm lift.[15]
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    Laugh more. Like deep breathing, laughing forces more air out of your lungs, which leads to a greater inhalation of fresh air and a higher supply of oxygenated blood.[16] Laughing also works abdominal muscles and increases lung capacity.
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    Get regular cardio. Aerobic exercise doesn’t necessarily make your lungs stronger on its own. However, great cardio-respiratory fitness makes it easier for your lungs to supply your heart and muscles with oxygen.[17] This puts less strain on your lungs, allowing them to function properly with less work.
    • The American Heart Association recommends at least thirty minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise five days a week or more in order to maintain good cardiovascular health.[18]
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    Make dietary changes. Studies have shown that diets rich in fresh fruit and fish are associated with benefits to lung health.[19] This is especially the case with those who experience asthma, COPD, and other common lung diseases.[20]
    • A 2010 study also showed that a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy) can decrease the risk of lung cancer.[21]
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    Breathe through your nose. The hairs in your nose act as a filter and only let extremely fine particles through. Your nose can filter particles as small as a single grain of pollen with 100 percent efficiency.[22] This makes breathing through your nose a much better option than breathing through your mouth.
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    Keep your nose clear. Sickness, allergies, and other conditions can all lead to common nasal congestion. A plugged nose means you’re pulling 100 percent of germs and pollution directly into your lungs by breathing through your mouth.[23] This can exacerbate conditions such as asthma and other lung complications or even cause them in those who don’t already suffer from them.[24]
    • Treat common allergies with antihistamines or other decongestants to help keep your nose clear.[25]
    • Additionally, overly dry nasal passages that can accompany sickness make nose hairs less effective at filtering air. Consider using a humidifier or even an over-the-counter nasal mist to keep your nasal passage moist and properly filtering the air you breathe.[26]
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    Stay hydrated. In addition to its myriad other positive effects, drinking plenty of water is good for your lungs. You lungs have a mucosal lining, and staying hydrated keep the lining thin, which helps your lungs function more efficiently.[27]
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    Take medication if you have a lung condition. If you have asthma or another respiratory condition, ensure you see your doctor for regular exams to help control the condition. Albuterol, a prescription bronchodilator, works well to help with asthma symptoms, for instance.
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    Stay current on your vaccinations. Yearly flu vaccines and pneumococcal vaccinations can help lower the risk of respiratory infections.[28] This also means less risk of developing associated lung complications such as pneumonia.
    • Smokers between the ages of 19 and 65 should get a pneumococcus vaccination. Also, anyone with chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease, alcoholism, chronic liver disease, or who is over the age of 65 should get the pneumococcus vaccination.

Method 3
Using Strategies to Reduce Exposure to Pollution

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    Buy houseplants. Houseplants are one of the easiest ways to improve indoor air quality. In addition to converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, studies have also shown that houseplants can reduce the indoor concentration of ozone, which is another harmful pollutant.[29]
    • Three common houseplants that studies have proven beneficial include snake plants, spider plants, and golden pothos.[30]
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    Use an air purifier. A filter purifier for the air in your home can help remove dust, smoke, and other pollutants. Air filters, electronic particle cleaners, and ionizers are all common forms of indoor air purification systems.[31]
    • Beware of brands that claim they create ozone in order to purify indoor air. Ozone a leading pollutant, especially during calm summer months, and these models can create harmful amounts of ozone while cleaning other particles from indoor air.[32]
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    Avoid high traffic areas. Especially for those who live in big cities, it’s common to run or bike along busy, congested streets while exercising. The abundance of vehicle exhaust and other pollutants in these areas can damage your lungs, especially given that you tend to breathe through your mouth during vigorous exercise, which bypasses the natural filtration you get through your nostrils.[33]
    • You can also check the EPA’s nationwide air pollution forecast for your area here to determine the air quality in your area.


  • You can use a spirometer to exercise your lungs and measure their capacity by volume. You exhale into a tube to make a piston in the plastic cylinder rise. You can find a spirometer at most pharmacies or medical supply stores.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Respiratory Health