It’s a time in our country where all that hard-earned work on our immune system is paying off. Yet, while we’ve talked the talk and walked the walk when it comes to boosting our immune system, what about the health of our lungs?
Based on recent research, when it comes to COVID-19, there are two bodily functions that seem to be most interfered with — the immune system and the lungs.
When it comes to the lungs, it seems that those with preexisting or underlying health conditions that affect the health of the lungs — such as obesity, autoimmune issues, diabetes, and heart disease — are some of the most severely affected. This also affects those that may have lung damage — such as life-long smokers or those who have suffered from severe asthma — as well as people that have undergone cancer treatments or suffer from lung disease.
Of course, one of the more recent illuminations of the disease is a bit scarier.
Even those of us without underlying health conditions — including young and healthy adults and children — are still at risk of becoming critically ill due in part to complications from the lungs.
If you’ve already got your immune health covered, why not take some of that extra lockdown time to strengthen your lungs?
As we go about our daily routine, we’re really only using about 50 percent of our lungs’ capacity. While incorporating around twenty minutes of moderate exercise into your daily routine will not only strengthen your lungs but also boosts heart health and can help elevate your mood, it’s harder than ever to get ourselves in that mind frame.
Therefore, try integrating some couch-friendly super simple techniques that can be performed while watching your favorite Netflix show?
How Your Lungs Work
When we talk about lungs, we’re inevitably talking about oxygen. This is due to the fact that our lungs move oxygen “into the bloodstream and [carry it] through your body.”
And, “every cell in your body needs oxygen in order to live,” so your lungs are pretty darn important.
On top of oxygen transportation, your lungs also act as a weigh station for carbon dioxide, which is exchanged “at each cell in your body” and then brought back to the lungs via your bloodstream. From there, you exhale carbon dioxide. This vital process performed by your lungs and respiratory system is called gas exchange.
Your lungs are remarkable organs, yet they are simply part of the bigger, more complicated, intricate system that is our respiratory system.
While the gas exchange process is perhaps the most vital, the respiratory system — and our lungs — also bring “air to the proper body temperature and [moisturize] it to the right humidity level,” serves as a protector via “coughing, sneezing, filtering, and swallow,” and supports “your sense of smell.”
This is accomplished through your respiratory system network, which includes your airways, — such as the sinuses, nose, mouth, throat, windpipe, and bronchial tubes — your lungs and blood vessels, — such as your right and left lungs, the pleura, cilia, mucus, bronchioles, alveoli, capillaries, pulmonary artery, and pulmonary veins — and your muscles and bones — such as your diaphragm and ribs.
5 Couch-Friendly Lung Strengthening Techniques
Want to get your lungs in the best shape possible during lockdown?
Lucky for us, strengthening your lungs is super simple!
Yes, exercise truly is the best way to increase that lung capacity. It only takes about 20 minutes a day of walking, running, biking, or hear-rate-increasing activity.
With that said, it’s also important to recognize that we may not always feel up to those 20 minutes a day, yet boosting the health of our lungs is incredibly important. Therefore, here are five simple exercises that you can perform from the comfort of your own couch. Get a few reps of each of these in a day and you’ll be on your way to stronger lungs!
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Remember when I mentioned the diaphragm? It’s one of the muscles that’s an integral part of our respiratory system. You may be more familiar with this muscle from singing lessons, as vocalists are trained to use their diaphragm for power and control over their voice.
Per Keith Roberts, RRT, CPFT — director of respiratory therapy at Rush — when it comes to strengthening your lungs, performing diaphragmatic breathing is key!
Diaphragmatic breathing “uses the awareness of the diaphragm muscle, which separates the organs in the abdomen from the lungs.” All it takes is concentrating on “lowering the diaphragm as you breathe in,” which will create “a much deeper inhale” and therefore increase your lung capacity.
2. Simple Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a natural part of being alive that we generally don’t pay much attention to.
Ever feel like you need to fill your lungs with air every once in a while? Do you practice yoga? Have you ever gone for a run and then participated in a cool down? Remember at the doctor’s office when the doctor listened to your lungs and asked you to take a deep breath?
These are all instances of deep breathing when you may have not realized that you were … well … deep breathing.
Yet, this is one of the simplest forms of lung strengthening exercise you can perform. By performing ritualistic deep breathing, you can help your lungs reach their full capacity on a regular basis.
There are three parts to this breathing exercise.
Seat yourself comfortably on your couch, the floor, or a chair, and make sure you’re practicing good posture. Begin by slowly inhaling and “consciously expand your belly with awareness of lowering the diaphragm.” Next, “expand your ribs, allowing the floating ribs to open like wings” and “allow the upper chest to expand and lift.” Lastly, make sure to “exhale as completely as possible by letting the chest fall, then contracting the ribs and, finally, bring the stomach muscles in and up to lift the diaphragm and expel the last bit of air.”
3. Practice Good Posture
Did you notice I mentioned a little something about posture in the deep breathing exercise?
If you haven’t paid much attention to that curved sitting spine or those lose core muscles, now is the time to give them some much needed TLC.
Your lungs are “soft structures [and] they only take up the room that you make for them.” Instead of making this a one-time-a-day exercise, how about sprinkling some posture stretches throughout your day? All you need to do is “sit tall and reach overhead,” which will naturally make more room for your lungs. If you’re looking to take posture stretching to the next level, simply lean “back slightly in a stable chair, [lift] the chest and [open] the front of your body as you breathe deeply.”
4. Longer Inhalations and Exhalations
Body positioning and respiratory muscle strengthening are both great ways to get those lungs in tip-top shape, yet you also need to focus on timing. This is achieved with a simple counting exercise in tandem with your inhalation and exhalations.
First off, begin “by counting how long a natural breath takes” and make sure that your exhale takes the same amount of time. Now that you have your average breath count, simply “add one more count to each inhale and exhale until you can comfortably extend the length of time it takes to fill and empty your lungs.”
The exercise isn’t about pushing the limits of your natural breath, therefore make sure that you are always comfortably breathing and that you aren’t straining.
This should be an easy and enjoyable breathing exercise!
5. Staying Hydrated
This last technique — staying hydrated — isn’t really an exercise, but more of a health tip. With that said, getting enough water every day is just as important as actual breathing exercises.
Remember we mentioned mucus as part of your respiratory system? Turns our that your lungs are actually lined with mucus — sticky phlegm or liquid — which travels “upward and out into your throat, where it is either coughed up or swallowed.” Mucus plays an integral role in the health of your lungs as it “catches and holds much of the dust, germs, and other unwanted matter that has invaded your lungs” allowing it to be expelled.
Proper hydration keeps this mucus lining on the thinner side and the “thinner lining helps the lungs function better.”
Along with exercises, your diet plays a major role in the health of your lungs.
Foods that should be avoided include those that can cause lung-related issues such as dairy, processed and fried foods, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and too much sodium. These foods have been linked to increased inflammation and blood pressure, edema, — swelling — and increased mucous in the lungs.
Alright, what about the lung boosting foods?
Luckily, there are a host of plant-based foods that have been “scientifically prove to be able to make a difference in the health of your lungs.”
1. Garlic and Ginger
Both of these savory, aromatic foods top the list of most plant-based health foods, yet when it comes to the lungs make sure you’re getting a serving a day!
Garlic has powerful “anti-inflammatory properties and reduces damage caused by free radicals” and studies have found that “raw garlic consumption may also play a role in reducing the risk of developing lung cancer.”
Now, take some of that wonderful garlic and mix it with ginger!
Ginger is not only an incredible flavoring tool, but it’s also a “natural decongestant that helps to clear up clogged air passages and improve circulation in the lungs.”
Try a few of these delightful garlic and ginger-rich recipes: Rosemary-Garlic Chickpea Flatbread, Carrot Ginger Soup with Curried Raisin Relish, Curried Split Pea Soup With Root Veggies and Ginger, or this Coconut Ginger Cupcakes.
2. Healthy Fats
Yes, yes, and yes! It’ always a great day when incorporating delicious healthy fat into your diet is a positive thing.
Healthy fats — such as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, omega fatty acids, and moderate amounts of saturated fat — “have the lowest carbon dioxide load during metabolism.” Turns out that a low-carb, high-fat diet may actually help you breathe a bit better! Per Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, you should aim for at least “one serving of nuts daily,” focusing on omega fatty acid-rich nuts such as walnuts. You can also get a nice dose of omega fatty acids from flaxseed!
Try a few of these healthy fat-filled recipes: Mushroom and Walnut Ravioli with Creamy Garlic Sauce, Banana Peanut Butter Breakfast Muffins, Sweet and Savory Spiced Nuts, or this Homemade Granola Bars.
3. Leafy Greens
Simply put, leafy greens are a key part of any diet — plant-based or not — to achieve overall bodily health. They are rich in plant-based, anti-inflammatory properties, as well as a slew of vitamins, minerals, and “carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin which act as antioxidants in the body, removing free radicals that could cause lung damage.” On top of that, leafy greens have been found to “support overall lung health and protect the lungs from inflammation and infection.”
4. Complex Carbs
There will always be a carbohydrate debate in the health world and there will always be studies contradicting each other when it comes to the long and short term effects of carb consumption. With that said, when it comes to the health of your lungs, you may want to consider incorporating a moderate dose of healthy complex carbs into your diet.
Of course, it’s not exactly that simple.
First off, it’s recommended via the American Lung Association to decrease those processed carbohydrates — foods made with white flour such as white rice, white flour pasta, crackers, and pastries — and instead focus on complex carbs such as sprouted whole grain bread, steel-cut oats, or even ancient grains such as quinoa, amaranth, or millet. Complex carbs also include a handful of veggies and legumes such as beans, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and even carrots.
5. Green Tea
I can’t say enough good things about green tea. Pretty much, the only argument is for those trying to steer clear of caffeine altogether. Besides that, green tea is one of the healthiest plant-based products that you can consume.
When it comes to lung health, green tea is a great choice due to its “high levels of antioxidants, including quercetin, ‘which acts like a natural antihistamine and slows down the release of histamines, reduces inflammation and protects the lungs from irritation.'” On top of that, green tea provides “super high levels of the antioxidants flavanol and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).”
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- • Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- • Plant-Based Health Resources
- • Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- • Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- • The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- • Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- • High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- • Plant-Based Meal Prep
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