It’s no secret that our lungs are vital organs. However, as we age, our lung capacity and function naturally decline, making us more susceptible to respiratory diseases. Hence, maintaining healthy lungs as you get older is crucial for overall health and well-being.
The main role of our lungs is to facilitate the exchange of gases between the air we breathe and our blood. This exchange supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide.
Our lung capacity peaks around age 20, after which it slowly declines. By age 70, some people may lose up to 40% of their original lung capacity.
There are many factors that can accelerate lung decline as we age. Smoking is the number one cause of preventable lung damage. Air pollution, second-hand smoke, and occupational exposures also adversely affect the lungs.
The good news is there are many ways we can keep our lungs strong and maintain lung health. With healthy habits and lung-protective care, you can maintain healthy lungs well into your senior years. Here are eight tips for maintaining strong, healthy lungs as you age:
Get Regular Medical Check-Ups
See your doctor for annual wellness visits and lung function tests. If you have risk factors like smoking history or occupational exposures to substances such as asbestos, ask about low-dose CT screening for lung cancer. Early detection allows for better management of conditions like asthma, COPD, and lung cancer. These are especially important for those who have worked in the military or construction industry. Both these occupations have a high risk of asbestos exposure which may result in asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma. If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos and are diagnosed with a disease, consult legal professionals about potential asbestos lung cancer compensation. This compensation can help cover medical costs and other related expenses, acting as a support system for those affected.
Besides getting your lungs examined for cancer, get an annual flu shot and pneumonia vaccine to prevent infection. Seek prompt treatment for respiratory illnesses to avoid complications like pneumonia. Report any persistent cough, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath to your doctor, as early treatment of lung conditions can prevent permanent damage.
Don’t Smoke and Avoid Second-Hand Smoke
Smoking is extremely damaging to lung health. Chemicals in cigarette smoke harm lung tissue, cause chronic inflammation and impair immune defenses. Smoking is linked to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases. Avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke is one of the best ways to prevent lung damage and respiratory infections as you age.
If you currently smoke, it is highly recommended to talk to your doctor about support to help you quit. There are many aids available, including nicotine patches, gum, medications, counseling, support groups, and quit-smoking apps that can greatly increase your chances of successfully quitting. Remember, it is never too late – quitting at any age can reverse some lung damage and improve health.
Regular physical activity keeps the lungs strong and functioning efficiently. Cardio exercises like walking, swimming, cycling, and strength training help improve stamina and lung capacity by conditioning the heart and respiratory muscles. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Yoga and deep breathing exercises also enhance lung function by fully expanding the lungs.
As a bonus, regular exercise helps control weight and reduces systemic inflammation linked to lung disease. Increased physical activity can lower inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein and interleukin-6. Exercise also improves immune function, helps clear mucus from airways, and increases oxygen supply to the body.
Eat a Nutritious Diet
Eating a diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats protects the lungs. Focus on colorful fruits and vegetables high in vitamins and minerals, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oily fish like salmon and tuna, which provide omega-3s. Key nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium support lung tissue health and function.
Protect Yourself from Air Pollution
Air pollution is a major cause of lung damage, so limit exposure when possible. On high-pollution days, exercise indoors or wear an N95 mask outdoors. Keep windows closed during peak traffic times and avoid busy roads whenever you can. Consider installing high-efficiency air filters at home and increase ventilation when cooking on gas stoves.
Reduce chemical exposures by choosing natural cleaning and personal care products. Avoid heavily fragranced sprays and products, as the chemicals can irritate airways. Be aware of the air quality in your area and plan activities to minimize pollution exposure, especially on poor air quality days.
Manage Chronic Health Conditions
Work closely with your doctor for optimal management of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Chronic inflammation from these conditions can impair lung function and damage tissue. Medications, healthy lifestyle changes, and pulmonary rehabilitation can improve symptoms. Don’t ignore new or worsening respiratory problems, and seek medical advice early on.
Conditions like gastroesophageal reflux and sleep apnea can affect the lungs over time. Follow treatment plans for your health conditions and attend regular checkups to keep them well-controlled.
Some supplements may help maintain healthy lung tissue and function. Talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements, especially if you take other medications or have chronic health conditions. Options that may be beneficial include vitamin D, omega-3 fish oil, curcumin, green tea extracts, N-acetylcysteine, and carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene.
Custom vitamin packs can provide lung-protective nutrients. Your doctor can recommend appropriate supplements based on your individual health status and needs. Remember, however, to never take more than the recommended dosage of any supplement.
Manage Stress and Get Enough Sleep
Chronic stress and poor sleep are linked with increased inflammation and higher infection risk. Make lifestyle changes to manage stress through yoga, meditation, counseling, or other techniques. Get 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night. Manage conditions like anxiety, depression, and insomnia that disrupt sleep.
Stress-reducing practices help balance hormones, lower blood pressure, improve breathing function, and reduce anxiety. Moreover, good sleep allows the lungs to rest and repair. Proper rest strengthens the immune system and promotes overall wellness.
Our lungs face many threats as we get older. However, there are many ways we can maintain lung health and preserve respiratory function as we age. Avoid smoking, exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, limit pollution exposure, get lung screenings, manage health conditions, consider supplements, and make time to manage stress and get quality sleep. Keeping your lungs healthy takes commitment but pays off with improved breathing, endurance, and vitality throughout your senior years.