How much do you know about your lungs?
The lungs are amazing, they are responsible for the movement of air and vital oxygen in and out of the body. Air travels into the nose and mouth, down the upper airways, known as the trachea and bronchi, all the way down into the alveoli where ‘gas exchange’ occurs. This is the body absorbing oxygen (O2) and getting rid of carbon dioxide (CO2).
How do they do it?
The main muscles that pull air into the body are the diaphragm (the biggest), the internal and external costal muscles and some smaller muscles up around your neck that work when you are short of breath – like during exercise.
Humans need oxygen to survive – only 6 minutes without it is fatal. The body is designed to ensure that plenty of oxygen is moving around your body, by detecting the pH (how acidic/basic) the blood is, and how much CO2 there is. If these levels go out of range, the first thing the body does to restore normal conditions, or homeostasis, is to alter the breathing pattern to help.
Breathing works via two systems:
- Autonomic – we breathe without thinking. However, this ‘normal’ day to day breathing is still susceptible to bad patterns that can affect how we feel and our stress levels.
- Somatic – take a deep breath… there you go – we can also control our breathing and override our normal patterns. This is useful during pain, panic attacks and for relaxation.
How do I look after my lungs?
The first rule of lung health is that if you are feeling in any way unwell, upset, stressed, have a cold or feeling cold. The breathing rate will change. It usually speeds itself up. Over time fast, shallow breathing can become habit and we don’t regularly breathe deeply. This is called apical breathing. What we really should be doing is breathing deeply and using all of the lungs. This is called diaphragmatic breathing. To help regulate breathing patterns and reduce stress levels try this 1 minute fix:
- Standing or sitting, let your shoulders and arms relax.
- Breathe deeply into your upper, middle and then down into the lower chest.
- Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
- Try to breath in for 5 seconds and out for 5 seconds.
- Breathe like this for 5 rounds. Feel good?
Exercising for lung health
Your heart and lungs work together so raising your heart rate during exercise and all some strength work is the best combination. Always ensure that you are safe to exercise.
Jogging – fast enough that you can just about hold a conversation, not so fast that you see stars! 30-60 minutes, 3 times week.
Chest opening exercises – reducing the common ‘desk pose’, assist with opening up the ribs and thorax to allow the lungs room to expand. Using exercise bands or light weights can build strength to support these muscles also.
Yoga and Pilates – using strengthening poses and controlled breathing is an excellent way to help assist lung health.
The bad news:
- 1 in 2 smokers die from smoking related diseases.
Cigarette smoke increases blood pressure and heart rate – making the heart work harder and increasing the risk of stroke.
- >93% of mouth and throat cancers are caused by smoking.
- Reduced oxygen and increased toxins = grey, dull skin + cellulite.
The good news:
- 1 hour of not smoking allows the hair like cells in your lungs to start regaining activity.
- 1 year of not smoking reduced your risk of heart disease by half!
- 15 years of not smoking is similar to a person who has never smoked!