In today’s busy, fast-paced world it’s easy to take things for granted. The sight and sounds on the commute to work, little moments with loved ones, or the body’s state of health are subconsciously put on the backburner to make room for never-ending to-do lists, scrolling social feeds, and day-to-day stress.
What about the lungs? It’s easy to overlook the importance of maintaining peak respiratory function. Think about it -- what could we possibly do without our lungs? Not much.
The lungs take a hit from daily exposure to toxins that are invisible to the eye, hindering the air quality in homes and workspaces. Undiagnosed conditions, such as asthma or allergies, can also keep the lungs from their top performance levels. When the lungs aren’t working at full capacity, blood oxygen levels become low and can lead to weakened muscle function and decreased exercise tolerance -- keeping the body from maintaining optimal physical health.1
The lungs are the motor of the respiratory system. Oxygen filters through the body with every inhale, turning fatty acids into energy. Sometimes, however, that oxygen is filled with toxins and pollutants that can prevent the lungs from doing their job.
Most airborne toxins are invisible to the naked eye - such as ozone, radon, and asbestos. Ozone hovers above the ground all around us, especially in major metropolitan areas. Radon gas has the ability to rise from soil and become trapped indoors. When inhaled, airborne asbestos from old tiles or insulation in the home or at the workplace can turn into an aggressive lung cancer, mesothelioma. Even visible toxins like mold have the ability to generate respiratory issues with prolonged exposure.
It is impossible to control every breath you take without living in a bubble. The decisions made by others around you impact your own air quality and it is unrealistic to avoid all exhaust from heavy traffic, ozone, and other air pollutants on a major scale. This fact makes being mindful of your own actions imperative.
Pollens, dust, animal dander, and mold are all airborne particles that can trigger respiratory allergy symptoms -- even for non-allergy sufferers. Along with a stuffy nose and itchy eyes, these allergens can wreak havoc on the lungs with wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, and airway inflammation.
Early signs and symptoms of a deeper issue can often be mistaken for allergies or a more common respiratory-related virus, like a cold or the flu. Pleural mesothelioma2, a cancer developed in the lungs due to asbestos exposure, presents itself with heavy coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Emphysema is another disease of the lungs that triggers shortness of breath due to damaged air sacs. Typically, those with emphysema are also subjected to chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). No cure currently exists for these diseases, but treatments are available through the consult of a medical professional.
Perhaps the most important measure towards optimal lung health is to stop smoking. Smoking not only decreases lung capacity and increases the risk of lung cancer, heart attack and stroke, but also places the risk on others through secondhand smoke. Additionally, smoking makes exercise more difficult. As lung capacity decreases, so does the body's ability to bring oxygen into the muscles and in turn produce energy.
Be mindful of the lungs and take a proactive approach towards implementing daily preventative measures. For those living in large cities, consider limiting time outdoors. This becomes imperative on hot days when ozone and other toxins are more prevalent. When exercising in metropolitan areas find a nature trail outside of the city for running or working out in an effort to limit your ozone inhalation.
Take the initiative to ensure carbon monoxide and radon gas detectors are installed professionally and properly in your home. Additionally, protect yourself and your family and contact a professional home inspector if mold or asbestos contamination poses a possible concern. All those with homes predating the 1970s should invest in their health and call a certified asbestos professional.
Get tested for allergies if you notice new or increased allergy reactions are hindering your exercise routine. Make an appointment with an allergist or an Ears, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist to discuss treatment options.
Though prevention is key, maintaining good physical health makes any illness easier to treat and control. Cardio activities like running, hiking, or playing sports increases endurance and stamina while simultaneously improving lung function. Activities that focus on breathing, like yoga and meditation, improve all around lung function and reduce stress as an added bonus! Be sure to consult a doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, especially for those with existing health issues.
1When the lungs aren’t working at full capacity, blood oxygen levels become low and can lead to weakened muscle function and decreased exercise tolerance -- keeping the body from maintaining optimal physical health. Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/understanding-idiopathic-pulmonary-fibrosis/chronic-lung-diseases-causes-and-risk-factors#1
2Pleural mesothelioma, a cancer developed in the lungs due to asbestos exposure, presents itself with heavy coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Source: https://www.maacenter.org/mesothelioma/types/pleural-mesothelioma/