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Show Your Lungs Some Love for National Healthy Lung Month
What is something you do every day, automatically, without thinking about it, yet it’s essential to life? The answer is…breathing! From the moment you were born into this world and took your first breath as a newborn baby, your lungs have been working to help you breathe. Every cell in your body needs oxygen in order to live.
October is National Healthy Lung Month, so we’ve compiled information and tips to help you and your lungs stay healthy.
How Do the Lungs Work?
The lungs are part of the respiratory system, a group of organs and tissues that work together. Not only does the respiratory system help you breathe in essential oxygen, but it also removes waste gasses such as carbon dioxide from the body. In this way, the lungs help the body perform an exchange. Your lungs contain millions of air sacs called alveoli where the exchange of gasses takes place between your bloodstream and airways.
A few fun facts about your lung function:
- The lungs contain no muscles.
- It’s your diaphragm, a strong wall of muscle between your chest and abdominal cavities, that draws in air and contracts to expel air.
- Your ribcage (bones that support and protect your chest cavity) move slightly to help your lungs expand and contract.
- As you breathe, your lungs, muscles, and bones all work together.
- Maximum lung capacity is about 6 liters of air—imagine three large (2 liter) soda bottles!
How Does Age Affect Your Lungs?
After the age of 35, your lung function naturally and slowly declines. Most people don’t notice any changes until their 50s or 60s. Your lung tissue, muscles, and bones are all impacted by the aging process, which can result in symptoms such as shortness of breath and tiredness. Here are a few examples:
- Your diaphragm can weaken over time, which decreases your ability to inhale and exhale—but you will probably only notice these changes when exercising.
- The bones of your ribcage can become thinner as you age. This alters the ribcage and its shape which means its ability to expand and contract with breathing is also altered.
- Your nerves in your airway are what trigger coughing. But as you age, these nerves become less sensitive to foreign particles. And if these particles build up in the lungs, they can cause damage to your lung tissue.
- Your immune system can naturally weaken over the years, which means you’re more susceptible to influenza and pneumonia.
Show your lungs some love and keep them healthy with these essential tips:
- Don’t smoke. Simply put, smoking damages the lungs. The American Lung Association can help you quit.
- Steer clear of air pollution. This includes secondhand smoke, air pollution outdoors, chemicals in your home, or radon. Learn more here.
- Stay active. Regular exercise can help keep your chest muscles strong, supporting your lung function. Here’s how.
- Watch your weight. Belly fat interferes with your diaphragm’s ability to fully expand your lungs.
- Rise and shine. Prolonged periods of lying in bed allow mucus and fluid to settle in your lungs, which can impede lung capacity.
- Prevent infection. Wash your hands with soap and water often. Schedule regular check-ups with your doctor, get your annual flu shot, and ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for the pneumonia vaccine.
The aging process affects our lungs slowly and gradually over time. But if you notice sudden changes, that could be cause for concern. For example, if you suddenly have trouble keeping up with people your age, you may want to talk to your doctor. And if you notice abrupt changes in your breathing, or if you can’t shake a cough, those are signs that you should seek medical attention.
Grand Oaks’ Johns Hopkins and Sibley Memorial Hospital care teams are on-site every day to provide essential healthcare resources and programs. Our team can help assess lung function and provide essential flu and pneumonia vaccines, keeping you and your loved ones healthy, so you can breathe easy.