Easy steps to strengthen your lung health

We take about 8 million breaths every year without really thinking about it. But that doesn’t mean we should take our lungs for granted.

Our lungs are one of the hardest-working organs in our bodies.

Every day they inflate about 22,000 times, oxygenating more than 7500 litres of life-giving blood and expelling about 1kg of carbon dioxide.

How well they perform these duties can have a big impact on how we feel.

So, give your lungs a break with these simple steps and you’ll breathe a little easier.

1. Learn to breathe deeply

According to respiratory physician Dr Barton Jennings, breathlessness can be a vicious cycle.

“I see a lot of people suffering breathlessness months after having had Covid-19,” Dr Barton says.

“They think they have a lung problem, but most often it’s a pattern of breathing – they feel breathless, that makes them anxious, causing them to breathe shallowly.”

Dr Jennings says everyone should practise diaphragmatic breathing for 5-10 minutes daily.

“Place one hand on the chest and one on the belly, breathe in deeply making the hand on the belly, not the chest rise, then exhale slowly,” he says.

“Focus on slowing your breathing down, breathing into the belly, not the chest, and engaging the diaphragm.”

2. Boost your exercise

Exercise can boost your fitness, help you lose weight, and improve your mental health.

But did you know it can make your lungs stronger and more efficient as well?

“Just as exercise strengthens your muscles, it also helps to make your lungs and heart stronger,” Lung Foundation Australia respiratory care nurse Amanda Curran says.

This is particularly important for older Australians because lung function decreases with age.

3. Quit smoking

Smoking is particularly damaging to the respiratory system.

Extensive research shows smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and pulmonary hypertension.

Dr Jennings says it’s never too late to give up – and your lungs will reap the benefit in a matter of weeks.

4. Get plenty of sunshine

A 2018 study found higher vitamin D levels were associated with improved lung function – so go outside and enjoy the sunshine.

“Getting sunshine is good for our overall health, our lung health, our mental health,” Dr Jennings says.

5. Improve your posture

Poor posture can contribute to poor lung capacity, studies have shown.

When you slump, your lungs have less space to expand, significantly reducing lung capacity.

“Good posture helps maintain your core muscle strength,” Dr Jennings says.

6. Focus on air quality

Research shows even short-term exposure to air pollution can affect lung function.

Amanda says common indoor pollutants include moisture, mould, and un-flued gas heaters, while outdoor air quality can be impacted by everything from burning fuels to pollen.

“Adequate ventilation indoors and reducing the sources of poor air quality is very important,” she says.

When should you worry about lung health?

Amanda says the early signs of lung disease and cancer can be easily overlooked.

“Breathlessness or a persistent cough should always be checked as soon as you start to notice it,” she says.

Other signs include coughing up mucus, phlegm or blood, chest tightness, wheezing, chest pain, fatigue and sudden weight loss.

Lung Foundation Australia has created a free online Lung Health Checklist to help determine your lung health risk factors.

For more about respiratory health and other topical wellbeing content, Tune into House of Wellness TV. Fridays at 2pm, Sundays at noon, on Channel 7.

Written by Dimity Barber.