The month of October has been designated Healthy Lung Month. In recognition of how important our lungs are to our overall health, the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center is participating in Healthy Lung Month with some tips and ideas about how to keep your lungs healthy.
Why are we so interested in lungs? Well, more than 75% of mesothelioma cases develop in the linings of the lungs, which are known as the pleura. This happens when asbestos is breathed in through the lungs and the fibers get caught in the pleura, and over time the tissue becomes inflamed and develops into tumors.
But even beyond mesothelioma, and cancer in general, we want everyone to keep their lungs healthy because healthy lungs will help you stay in tip-top shape overall. So with that in mind, here are some ways to help your lungs stay healthy.
Do Some Cardio
When people think of cardiovascular exercise, they usually think of how it helps the heart. That makes sense, since the word “cardio” actually comes from the ancient Greek word for heart (kardía). And certainly, a good cardio workout will get your heart pumping and the blood flowing!
But cardio is also great for the lungs, as well, partly because of that great blood flow. Your blood carries oxygen to all the parts of your body, and it takes carbon dioxide away. When you exercise, your cells work harder, so this transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide becomes even more important. By exercising, your lung capacity increases, making it easier for your body to get the oxygen it needs. (Note that your lungs don’t actually get bigger; rather, they become more efficient as you use them more.)
Also, scientists have recently discovered that breathing plays a very important role in weight loss. When your body breaks down fat for energy use, the fat molecules are converted into carbon dioxide and water. The water is excreted through your skin as sweat or released through urine, but the largest component of a broken-down fat cell is exhaled as carbon dioxide. So not only does cardio help your body get oxygen – it can literally help you exhale your fat away!
Get Regular Checkups
Okay, this isn’t restricted to just lung health, but your health in general. Still, one of the things that gets checked during your annual (or more often, if you need them) checkups is to check your lungs. Sure, the stethoscope might feel a little cold, but it’s important to have someone who is a trained professional listen to how your lungs sound. They may be able to spot things that you might think are normal.
When going to your checkup, don’t hesitate to tell your doctor about anything that doesn’t feel right. That includes any trouble you’ve had breathing, of if you’ve had pains in your chest or back where your lungs are located. Has your breath been shallow? Have you felt any pain, tightness, or other discomfort? Do you feel more easily winded than you used to? All of these things could signify problems, and ignoring them or failing to discuss them with your doctor could just lead to more (and worse) problems down the road.
Kick the Bad Habits
Everyone knows what we’re talking about here: smoking.
In today’s world, there really is no excuse for smoking. Everyone knows it’s bad for you, and there really is no redeeming quality. It leads to all sorts of cancers – including, of course, lung cancer – not to mention other diseases as well. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list at least 15 different types of cancer and 22 other diseases and conditions for which smoking increases the health risks.
Plus, not only are you hurting yourself by smoking, but you are hurting others as well. Even when smoking outdoors, anyone near or passing by will get a lungful of your exhaled smoke. If you smoke indoors – at home, in your car, or elsewhere – then you are hurting the people who are closest to you every time you blow out a puff of smoke.
And let’s not ignore e-cigarettes. There is a lot of talk that smoking e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” is much healthier than smoking cigarettes. In truth, medical studies are showing that vaping is just as bad, if in different ways. They contain nicotine and formaldehyde, both of which are known carcinogens. Certain flavors used in e-cigarettes also contain diacetyl, a somewhat common food additive that can cause a condition known as “popcorn lung” when inhaled. Even if e-cigarettes might be a way to help some people move away from smoking tobacco products, there is no reason to believe that they are necessarily safe in the long run.
Avoid Toxic Materials
A toxin is anything considered poisonous or detrimental to the body. There are a lot of toxic substances, so it would be nearly impossible to try to list them all here. Instead, we’ve put together a list of some activities that may require toxic substances, with some considerations to keep in mind.
Cleaning: Many cleaning solvents and supplies contain strong chemicals – they need to be in order to kill germs, cut through dirt and grease, and keep your home safe and spotless. This can include soaps, sprays, detergents, powders, polishes, and anything else you use to clean. It also includes “green” or homemade supplies: Just because something is environmentally friendly, that doesn’t mean it’s good for your lungs! When using cleaning supplies, it’s best to use them in limited amounts (only what you need to get the job done), and to wear a mask. Also, make sure the area where you are cleaning is well ventilated.
Construction, Remodeling, and Redecorating: Whether you’re creating something new, fixing something old, or simply changing how something looks, you need to take precautions. Fumes from paints, stains, dyes, and other coloring agents can be very toxic. Also, if you’re doing any cutting, sanding, demolition, or other work that will create dust, make sure to wear a mask (as well as eye protection) so that you don’t breath it in. This is especially important in older homes, where the plaster, insulation, or decorative textures on the walls or ceiling could contain asbestos.
Yard Work: The outdoors are great, and fresh air is good for your lungs, right? Yes, that’s true, but you still need to be careful when doing yard work. Allergies tend to kick up in the fall, and that can affect your lungs, as well as cause problems with your sinuses or throat. When doing yard work, breathing problems can also be triggered by both plants and the chemicals used to kill them (such as weedkillers). And if you’re spraying pesticides around the house, make sure everyone is aware and knows when things will be safe again.
This is certainly not a complete list, but hopefully it will get you thinking in the right direction about keeping your lungs free of toxic materials.