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Water Cooler: Support your lung health during smoke season

UPDATED: Sun., July 18, 2021

A healthy lung has about 300 million alveoli, grape-shaped air sacs that help oxygen reach the circulatory system.  (Pixabay)
A healthy lung has about 300 million alveoli, grape-shaped air sacs that help oxygen reach the circulatory system. (Pixabay)

With the early start of this year’s fire season, it is important to support respiratory health as we endure poor air conditions.

There are many ways to maintain and better your lung health, but the first step is learning more about how lungs work and why they are so important.

The lungs take in oxygen through the windpipe, which branches into two airways called bronchi. These airways lead into the lungs and become increasingly narrow until they end in alveoli, commonly referred to as air sacs.

In healthy lungs, there are about 300 million of these grape-shaped air sacs. Oxygen passes through the thin lining of the alveoli, where it is diffused into the fine blood vessels surrounding them.

Oxygen then enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body to be delivered to every cell. As oxygen is delivered, carbon dioxide is removed through exhalation by passing from the bloodstream, through the alveoli lining and out through the lungs.

In addition to this crucial exchange of gases, the respiratory system also works to change air to the proper body temperature and humidity level. This system also protects the body by helping it remove harmful substances through filtering, coughing, sneezing or swallowing when needed.

In terms of improving the health of all these elements involved in your respiratory health, let’s get the obvious one out of the way first : Quit smoking or don’t start if you’re already not smoking.

Even if you have been a long-time smoker, just 12 hours after your last cigarette, the body starts to rid itself of excess carbon monoxide, a gas present in cigarette smoke. After one day, blood pressure begins to drop, reducing the risk of heart disease, and oxygen levels in the lungs begin to rise.

The lungs begin to heal and increase their capacity after one month, and circulation continues to improve as well. Nine months later, the lungs have healed substantially. This includes the cilia, which are structures that help push mucus out of the lungs and are integral in fighting lung infections.

This one is especially important if you smoke indoors – improve your indoor air quality. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there can be around 2 to 5 times the amount of pollutants inside homes than outside regardless whether the home is near an industrial or rural area .

To improve indoor air quality, make sure to regularly change filters for air systems, keep on top of regular cleaning to remove dust and dander from the home, keep household cleaners and other chemicals to a minimum, and consider investing in an air purifier. Avoid poor outdoor air quality as it arises.

The lungs will greatly benefit from exercise, as it not only helps improve oxygen and blood circulation throughout the lungs and the rest of the body, but it also strengthens the muscles within the respiratory system. Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities can improve lung health.

Breathing exercises can particularly target and strengthen the diaphragm. Practice focusing on expanding your belly when you breath and keep a posture that allows the lungs room to expand as you breathe deeply. Breathing doesn’t always have to be so serious – laughing is also a great way to work the abdominal muscles and diaphragm, as well as clearing stale air out of the lungs.

Keeping hydrated is also essential for lung health, especially during poor air conditions. Fluid intake keeps the lung’s mucosal linings thin and maintains efficient gas exchange and helps the lungs more easily expel particulate matter.

Prevention is also key in lung health. Getting vaccinated against respiratory diseases can prevent infections and subsequent damage to the lung tissue.

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