The lungs play a pivotal role in your health and overall longevity. These vital organs provide oxygen to the bloodstream supporting the functions of all other organs. The lungs are remarkable in that they have regenerative properties that restore structure and function over time, but with age and exposure to environmental irritants, the natural restorative processes get weaker over time. Taking steps to improve lung health as you age is one of the best things you can do to support optimal health and mitigate the severity of certain age-related diseases. Keep reading for 5 tips on how to improve lung health during allergy season.
How to improve lung health
The five tips outlined below can help support optimal lung function.
1. Address seasonal allergies
Seasonal allergies adversely impact lung health and breathing. Allergens such as ragweed, pollen, dust, and pet dander trigger inflammation in the nasal cavity and airways of the lungs, increasing mucus production and impairing breathing function. (6) Additional irritants in the air, such as smoke, pollution, strong odors, and weather changes, can also stress the respiratory system, which can degrade lung health and contribute to the development of chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) over time.
While reactive inflammation can be protective and help repair the respiratory system, chronic inflammatory stress can produce wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and potentially other long-term complex respiratory conditions. The nasal congestion and watery eyes that allergies precipitate help to wash away allergens, but this reaction can also obstruct nasal passages, making it difficult to breathe. The nose, critical to healthy breathing, purifies, humidifies, and warms the air for optimal lung function. Mouth breathing is harmful and can cause dryness and cough. Allergies can also precipitate asthma, a condition characterized by airway spasms and compromised lung health.
Allergy-induced asthma is a common condition in which the airways swell and produce extra mucus, making it difficult to breathe properly. People with allergies are at higher risk of developing respiratory infections, such as bronchitis. (11) Preventing allergies or keeping them under control by wearing a mask, irrigating nasal passages with saline, or using indoor air filters can significantly improve the function of the nasal passages and improve overall lung health. (10)
2. Protect your lungs from oxidative stress
Oxidative stress plays a pivotal role in the airways, which are constantly exposed to oxidative compounds from the air we breathe and inflammatory cells from our body’s immune system. (4) In broad terms, airway oxidative stress is the imbalance between free radicals (reactive oxygen species) and the antioxidative processes that scavenge and eliminate these free radicals in the airway. Several mechanisms help prevent the damage caused by excessive oxidative stress. These processes can be supported through lifestyle and dietary modifications, such as adhering to a Mediterranean diet, (5) and taking polyphenol-rich antioxidant supplementation when recommended by your integrative healthcare provider. (8) If left unchecked, oxidative stress can prolong disease, reduce lung capacity, and fundamentally change the genetics of lung cells which can lead to chronic illness. (1)
3. Reduce exposure to environmental allergens
Prevention is often the best medicine. Reducing exposure to allergens and minimizing oxidative stress in the lungs can be achieved by taking some simple preventative measures, including:
- Being aware of allergy triggers and avoiding them
- Checking the local air quality and pollen forecast before heading outside to exercise or work
- Gardening early in the morning when pollen counts are at their lowest
- Keeping a clean home to avoid accumulation of indoor allergens
- Washing your hands after petting animals, particularly cats (7)
4. Engage in aerobic exercise
Improving lung function is an essential part of healthy aging. The lungs, much like the heart and other parts of the body, age with time, losing strength, flexibility, and resilience, which can reduce lung capacity. Regular daily aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, or biking for 30 minutes or more, can increase your lung capacity, making your cardiorespiratory system more efficient and resilient, thus reducing the impact of age. (2)
5. Practice deep breathing
Deep breathing is an often overlooked age-old practice used to improve respiratory function and aid relaxation. The practice of deep breathing, which involves consciously breathing through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth, helps improve lung function and capacity by clearing mucus and stale air in the lungs and increasing oxygen circulation. Short periods of deep breathing also have several benefits for overall respiratory function, lung health, cognition, and mental health. (3)(9)
The bottom line
Maintaining optimal lung health as you age is one of the best things you can do to support the long term health of your vital organs, while mitigating the severity of certain age-related diseases. Taking simple steps on how to improve lung health, such as improving diet and exercise along with minimizing exposure to environmental irritants can significantly improve lung capacity and longevity.
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