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October is Healthy Lung Month, bringing with it opportunities to learn more about one of our body’s most vital organs.
Every breath we take is a reminder of how important lungs are to our overall well-being. Whether you are in good health or suffer from a disease that affects the lungs — such as mesothelioma or lung cancer — there are significant things you can do on a daily basis to take care of your body.
Lungs transport oxygen to the blood when you inhale, and eliminate carbon dioxide, a “waste gas,” from the body when you exhale. The process is called gas exchange, and it is crucial to life itself.
When a toxic substance or disease inhibits the ability of the lungs to do their job, the whole body suffers.
Smoking, air pollutants and hazards such as exposure to asbestos are all factors that pose a risk to lung health.
According to the American Lung Association, there are several proactive measures you can take to ensure healthy lungs.
Quit Smoking or Don’t Start
When a person smokes, the air passages within their lungs narrow, making it harder to breathe. Over time, smoking causes inflammation and damage to the lung tissue, which could lead to diseases such as lung cancer, COPD, chronic bronchitis, heart disease and more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warns that smoking can cause strokes, diabetes, tuberculosis and immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
If you hesitate to quit smoking for your own health, take a look at these statistics: The CDC estimates that secondhand smoke causes the deaths of nearly 41,000 adult nonsmokers and 400 infants every year.
The good news, according to the CDC, is that just one year after kicking the smoking habit, your risk of a heart attack drops significantly. Remain smoke-free for two to five years and your chances of dying of a stroke drop to that of a nonsmoker.
Protect yourself and your loved ones by putting smoking behind you. Many organizations, including the American Lung Association, have tips for those wanting to quit.
Minimize Exposure to Pollutants
There are common pollutants in the air, indoors and out, that can be unhealthy for lungs. This includes household chemicals, secondhand smoke and certain unseen hazards such as radon.
Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that lives in the ground and can permeate a home. Radon detection kits are available at most hardware and home improvement stores.
Legacy asbestos in the home is a hazard many people don’t take into consideration when renovating a room or replacing old plumbing. Asbestos-containing products are prevalent in homes built before the 1980s, and include insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, electrical components and more.
Be aware of these dangers before embarking on a home renovation of any size.
Protect Your Health
Staying healthy overall is a factor in maintaining the health of your lungs. Even the common cold and seasonal flu can impact lung health. COVID-19 is also known to have a detrimental effect on your lungs.
The American Lung Association recommends doing the following to protect yourself and others from these illnesses:
- Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available.
- Avoid crowds.
- Maintain good oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth is one way to thwart germs.
- Get the flu shot.
- Avoid infecting others if you do get sick. Stay home until you are no longer contagious.
See Your Doctor
Regular checkups are essential to maintaining good health. If you are a smoker, be sure to see your doctor on a regular basis.
Having routine checkups gives you a greater chance of uncovering an illness before it reaches an advanced stage.
Countless people have worked in occupations where exposures to toxic substances such as asbestos were common. Occupational asbestos exposure was prevalent in industries such as construction, firefighting, mining, shipyard work and more.
The latency period for development of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer attributed to asbestos exposure, is between 20 and 50 years.
If you know you have been exposed to asbestos, alert your physician. Early screening for lung disease can go a long way toward prolonging your life.
It is common knowledge that exercise has a multitude of health benefits, and this is especially true for your lungs. When you exercise, you increase your lungs’ ability to get oxygen to your muscles. Over time, they and your heart become stronger, decreasing the odds of developing a serious illness.
For those already dealing with a disease affecting their lungs, even light activity, such as stretching and walking around the house, can help them feel better. Any exercise plan, however, should be made in conjunction with a physician.
The American Cancer Society encourages cancer patients to remain physically active after cancer treatment if deemed safe by a doctor. Some benefits include:
- Improved balance
- Lowered risk of blood clots
- Help in controlling weight
- Lessened fatigue
- Better quality of life
Many health organizations will shine a light on lung health during the month of October, especially on Oct. 28, which is Lung Health Day.
National Respiratory Care week also falls this month, the week of Oct. 25-30.
Take the opportunity during Healthy Lung Month to pay attention to your lungs. Reach out to your health care provider for more tips on staying healthy, and be sure to involve family members in your efforts.
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