Did you know that on a normal day you breathe around 25,000 times? That’s all thanks to your lungs, those hard-working organs that help keep all your cells working efficiently by supplying your body with oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. In addition to being hugely important, your lungs are actually huge. According to the American Lung Association, the surface area of your lungs is about equal to the size of a tennis court; and if the airways within them were laid out end to end, they’d be 1,500 miles in length.
Fun facts aside, fall is an excellent time to pay tribute to your lungs and all that they do. The timing makes sense. Viruses that can impact the lungs, such as cold and flu, are more common in the fall and winter, when people spend more time inside, and the cold and dry air may make us more vulnerable to getting sick. Because of that, it’s important to focus on healthy habits now, to help your lungs help you. Read on to learn ways to pump up your pulmonary health this fall and beyond.
Perhaps the No. 1 way of sending a love letter to your lungs is to put down the cigarettes. Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to the American Lung Association; the ALA also says that cigarette smoking can lead to chronic bronchitis. Quitting smoking can be beneficial no matter how old or young you are. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco cessation could reduce a person’s risk for premature death, and may even add up to a full decade to their life (while also improving health and quality of life). By quitting, you’re also helping to protect friends and family from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
When you exercise your body, you exercise your lungs. Plus, exercise has all kinds of other health benefits: it can improve your mental health and cognitive function, lower your risk of stroke and high blood pressure, improve sleep and more. As we move into fall and winter, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity or a combo of the two each week (that’s the recommendation of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans). It may sound like a lot, until you break it down to something more manageable, like 30 minutes of fast-paced walking five times a week.
Avoid pollution when possible
Watch the air quality index (AQI) in your area to learn about whether the air outside could be harmful. The AQI tracks smog and air pollution, and uses a color coded system to help you make decisions on things like whether to avoid exercising or even spending time outdoors. It’s also important to keep the air inside your house free of pollution, as much as you can. Have your house tested for radon, which is a gas that can cause lung cancer. In addition, avoid smoking indoors, make sure your carbon monoxide/smoke detector is working and take a pass on items with chemicals or scents that could irritate lungs (such as certain household cleaners, scented candles and air freshener). Aim to keep your house clean and free of dust, dander and mold, so you can breathe easy (literally).
Stop the spread
One thing we’ve all learned by now from the spread of Covid-19 is the power of prevention. The same healthy habits that have helped keep many people safe during the pandemic could also help prevent other respiratory illnesses. So continue to wash your hands frequently, wear a mask indoors with others, maintain social distance, stay home when you’re sick and get the vaccinations that are available to you, including the influenza vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine. And if you have any concerns about your lung health, or other aspects of your health, make an appointment with your health care provider today.
Every day, nearly 25,000 times a day, we engage in an activity many of us take for granted: breathing. This month, and every month, do something in return for your lungs. Protect them, so that they can keep working hard for you.