Improve Lung Health and Protect Your Immune System With These Vital Behaviors
Maintaining or strengthening lung health and your immune system are key components to fighting viruses, especially ones that affect the respiratory system. With the constant threat of unseen respiratory viruses like COVID-19, we need to have a way to protect ourselves from illness. Though we can’t control what happens outside our home, there are steps we can take to improve our lung capacity, simultaneously boost our immune system, and ensure that the air INSIDE our homes is healthy. First, let’s take an abbreviated look at how the lungs and immune system work together.
What is the function of our lungs and how do they work with the immune system?
Click on the image to view a video from WebMD that shows how the immune system fights off pneumonia caused by viruses or bacteria
Lungs are organs that are part of the respiratory system. Protected by our rib cage, lungs function to move inhaled oxygen throughout the body via the bloodstream and convert oxygen to carbon dioxide for us to exhale. By natural design, the lungs produce fatty proteins called surfactant for protection from injuries or infections. Our immune system works with our respiratory system to produce large white blood cells called macrophages to locate particles such as bacteria or viruses and clear the space before harm is done to the lungs. Of course the inner workings of the respiratory and immune systems are much more complex than this, but the bigger focus of this discussion is how to enhance the two to fight off disease.
We aren’t left defenseless!
There are many things we can do to arm ourselves against illness and improve lung capacity. Perhaps healthy behaviors that we cognitively understand, yet haven’t necessarily put into practice yet. The good news is that each day brings new opportunities to improve our health and well being.
If you haven’t started exercising yet – then there’s no better time than the present. The human body is meant to move often. Whether it is a 30 minute brisk walk or a strength training program, it’s never too late to improve your lung capacity (the amount of oxygen your lungs take up). Exercise also releases various proteins that can help maintain immunity.
The American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines recommend the following for aerobic activity:
**Cardiorespiratory Exercise: Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Exercise recommendations can be met through 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise three days per week. One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions of at least 10 minutes are both acceptable to accumulate the desired amount of daily exercise.
Of course exercise cannot prevent us from becoming infected with viruses if exposed, however, a strong immune system can help mitigate the negative effects and expedite recovery time.
Or at least TRY to reduce the amount of tobacco you smoke. Smoking significantly reduces your body’s ability to fight infection by depleting it of vitamins and minerals. For example, smokers are shown to have lower levels of vitamin C in their blood versus their non-smoking counterparts. Not only are vitamin C levels lower in smokers, cigarette smoke diminishes smokers’ preferences for vitamin C rich foods. This is especially concerning due to the fact that vitamin C helps support the immune system and healthy muscle tissue repair. Smoking also decreases calcium absorption which directly affects cellular processes and bone health. Two very necessary nutrients to fight viruses like COVID-19. If you are a smoker, it’s not too late to quit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has resources and a useful app for you to use to get started today!
Improve air quality in your home
One of the first things you’ll want to look for in your home are damp areas and mold growth in areas that have constant moisture. Mold can be toxic and harmful to your lungs and your immune system overall. Even worse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that excessive moisture promotes the growth of dust mites, cockroaches, and bacteria and viruses. If you want to protect yourself and those living with you from disease and infection, conduct a thorough assessment of your home to ensure healthy air quality. Even without the threat of viruses such as COVID-19, you still want to protect your respiratory and immune systems from toxic mold and airborne mold particles.
Once you’ve identified any problem areas in your home and potentially remediated them, think about how you can improve the air quality in your living area or work space. You may consider running an air purifier. A high-quality air purifier may reduce pollutant sources like dust, pet dander, and smoke. I recommend researching the best air purifiers at Consumer Reports so you can make the most informed decision for your family. Remember, healthy lungs and a functioning immune system strengthens your ability to fight off disease or infections.
Do away with harsh household cleaning products
There is a growing body of evidence to show that people who clean at home or use harmful cleaners regularly, may suffer in the long term from exposure to irritants. It is even being suggested that long-term use of harsh chemical cleaners may have the same effect on a person’s lung function as smoking tobacco. This is alarming! At the very least, wear a mask while cleaning with harsh contaminants! Especially if you are cleaning more frequently than ever before.
There are some green, eco-friendly products that claim to disinfect as well as the others, however, read your labels carefully. One product that is effective against viruses is Mrs. Meyer’s Multi-Surface Concentrate cleaner. This happens to be the cleaning product I use the most in my house. Interestingly enough, each time I’ve been to the grocery store in the past few weeks, the eco-friendly products are the ones left on the shelves. It helps if you know which ones are effective at fighting bacteria and viruses.
George M. Bevier Professor of Engineering in the chemical engineering department of the University of Pittsburgh evaluated Mrs. Meyer’s surface cleaner in an article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer. This is his assessment:
Mrs. Meyer’s surface cleaner also has decyl glucoside, a surfactant Beckman described as gentle and degradable, as well as lauryl glucoside, another degradable, nonionic soap. Skipping ahead on a list of Mrs. Meyer’s ingredients, he singled out sodium methyl 2-sulfolaurate. “Now that is an ionic soap. So that thing will do a job on anything with a cell membrane,” Beckman said. “It just blows up cells, and it will do the same to viruses.” (Mrs. Meyer’s doesn’t, however, claim to be a disinfectant.)
I’m not endorsing one product over another – I just want you to know you have eco-friendly and lung-friendly options. Incidentally, vinegar and baking soda is not effective at eliminating viruses from surfaces.
If you’re still not sold on eco-friendly cleaning products, yet you care about your lung health, wear a face mask when handling chemical based cleaning products to avoid inhalation.
With all this said, the facts can be scary. All of us are vulnerable to the possibility of contracting a virus or harmful bacteria. We certainly need to keep our distance from other people right now, but it’s easier said than done for others. There’s things you can’t control, but exercise, not smoking, improving air quality in your home, and limiting harmful pollutants are within your control.
It’s not too late to build your body’s defenses!
By Camille Panaro, M.S. ES., M.S. Ed.