If you want to be able to blow out all the candles on your cake when you’re 75 (assuming your family dares to put a candle for every year) not to mention climb three flights of stairs without needing oxygen, now is the time to take action.
What, you’re wondering, could you possibly do beyond quitting smoking to get your bellows in better shape? Plenty. Although quitting smoking tops our list, we also found another 18 tips that will have you doing less huffing and puffing and protect your lungs from damage and disease.
1. Have a heart-to-heart with your bed partner. Key question to ask: Do I snore? If the answer is yes, make an appointment with a sleep specialist and get checked for sleep apnea. The condition, in which you stop breathing dozens or even hundreds of times during the night, can actually damage your lungs nearly as much as smoking. Fortunately, it’s treatable.
2. Make several trips downstairs to the basement every day. The kind of 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. For instance, studies find that walking about 15 minutes at a time, three to four times a day, improved breathing in people with emphysema, a lung disease.
3. Pop a fish-oil supplement every morning. Most airway problems, including asthma, are related to inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are the main ingredient in fish-oil supplements, reduce inflammation.
4. Breathe from your belly for at least five minutes every day. This kind of breathing, called diaphragmatic breathing, involves training and strengthening your diaphragm so it requires less effort to take in each breath. To do it, inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs from the bottom up. If you’re doing it right, your stomach will pooch out. Exhale and repeat.?
5. Expand your chest like a cocky rooster. To help your chest expand and boost your lung capacity, lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head and bring your elbows together so they’re nearly touching. As you inhale, slowly let your elbows drop to the sides so your arms are flat on the floor when your lungs are full. As you exhale, raise your elbows again.
6. Read the fine print on household cleansers. Some products, like oven cleaner, can be toxic if inhaled. And if the instructions say to open a window or use in a well-ventilated space, follow them, says Kevin Cooper, M.D., a Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center pulmonologist.
7. Enforce a no-smoke zone in your house. And avoid smoky bars and smoking areas in restaurants. It doesn’t seem fair, but secondhand smoke you breathe from these sources can damage your lungs just as much as the smoke from your own cigarette.
8. Wear a face mask or even a gas mask when working around toxic dust or fumes. “Occupational exposure is a major hazard to lung health,” Dr. Cooper says. Even simple household tasks like sanding paint could send damaging fragments into your lungs, he says.
9. Work in 10-20 crunches a day. Your abdominal and chest muscles allow you to suck air in and out. Strengthen them, and if you’re also practicing your deep breathing, you’ll have the breath power of a professional opera singer (or at least close).
10. Take your medicine and listen to your doctor if you have asthma. There’s some pretty good evidence that people with asthma eventually develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a lung disease that strikes people 65 and older. There’s also evidence that keeping your asthma under control with medication and lifestyle changes can prevent the disease from developing.
11. Make spaghetti sauce tonight, tomato and basil salad tomorrow night, and roasted tomatoes over the weekend. British researchers found that people who ate tomatoes three times a week had improved lung function and experienced less wheeziness and fewer asthma-like symptoms.
12. Look on the bright side. So the stock market is down; at least the bond market is up. When Harvard researchers followed 670 men with an average age of 63 years for eight years, they found those who were more optimistic had much better lung function and a slower rate of lung function decline than the pessimists in the bunch.
13. Get at least seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A 1998 study found that high amounts of antioxidants found in such foods, including vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene, meant better lung function — even in smokers!
14. Have a glass of wine tonight. Drinking wine, particularly white wine, both in the recent past and over your lifetime, seems to help your lungs. It has to be wine, though. Researchers found no such correlation when they looked at the effects of other forms of alcohol. Researchers aren’t certain why, but suspect it may be due to high levels of antioxidants in wine that protect cells from the damage from smoke and air pollution.
15. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss after every meal. Seems the state of your gums makes a difference when it comes to your lungs. Researchers at the State University of New York in Buffalo found patients with periodontal, or gum, disease were 1 1/2 times more likely to also have COPD. Plus, the worse the gum disease, the worse the lung function, suggesting a direct correlation between the two.
16. Say no to dessert. There’s a direct link between what you weigh and the health of your lungs. Having extra weight makes your respiratory muscles work harder and less efficiently, researchers found in a 2004 study. This, in turn results in shortness of breath, which makes it hard to exercise, which makes it hard to lose the weight.
17. In hot, dry, or very cold weather, or in dusty or polluted air, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Our nasal passages are designed to filter the air and regulate its temperature and humidity. If you breathe in through your mouth, everything — dust, coldness, etc. — goes straight on into the lungs.
18. Take it easy when pollution or ozone levels are in the red zone. The more you exert yourself, the more you have to breathe through your mouth to take in larger volumes of air. This, in turn, means less filtering of the air during some very dangerous air quality times.