Rates of lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, vary across the United States. These are just some illnesses that can affect the lungs. However, people can help keep their lungs healthy with various approaches.
Health conditions relating to the lungs are prevalent throughout the U.S. For example, in the District of Columbia, more than 14% of adults have a chronic lung disease. And in West Virginia, where lung cancer rates are the worst in the nation, 19% of adults develop lung cancer.
Meanwhile, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S, while other lung issues, such as pneumonia and lung cancer, can also be fatal.
However, a range of lifestyle strategies may reduce or prevent serious lung health issues. Keep reading to learn more about how to keep the lungs healthy.
Respiratory infections can be serious, especially in older people, very young children, and those with weakened immune systems.
For example, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can cause COVID-19, leading to potentially severe symptoms, and in some cases, death, even in healthy people.
A person can reduce the risk of contracting lung infections by:
- staying home when sick
- avoiding sick people
- frequently washing hands
- avoiding crowds during cold and flu season
- physical distancing and wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic
- keeping children home when they are sick
- coughing into a tissue or elbow
People with chronic lung disease should talk with their doctors about additional strategies to reduce their risk of acquiring infections.
Vaccines can prevent several infections, including those that may harm the lungs. The tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine, for example, can prevent potentially severe illnesses in babies and children. Another vaccine is the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine, which can protect against some forms of pneumonia.
Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer and lung diseases such as COPD. Avoid smoking or vaping, and stay away from secondhand smoke, especially in enclosed areas. It is also never too late for lifelong smokers to quit.
The lungs begin healing almost immediately after a person quits smoking. Ten years after quitting, the risk of acquiring lung cancer is roughly half that of a current smoker.
Indoor air pollution can damage the lungs and worsen asthma and allergies. To reduce indoor air pollution, a person can follow these measures:
- Use an Environmental Protection Agency-approved air filter, and replace it every 60–90 days.
- Test the home for mold if there is visible mold or a moldy smell.
- Test the home for radon.
- Avoid using chemicals with a strong odor in an unventilated space.
- Wear a mask when painting or working with strong chemicals.
- Do not allow people to smoke inside the home.
- Keep doors and windows closed when the air outside is very polluted.
People with lung diseases, asthma, allergy, and breathing issues can protect their lungs by working with a pulmonologist or other lung expert. Talk with a doctor if symptoms change or worsen, medications trigger side effects, or management strategies are not effective.
People with allergies should ask healthcare professionals about allergy treatments. They should also avoid allergens, while home air filters may help reduce their effects.
Outdoor air pollution can make breathing difficult and may increase the risk of lung disease and lung cancer.
A person can try the following steps to help reduce its impact:
- Check the air quality index and avoid spending time outside when the air quality is low.
- Use a filtration system on a home air conditioner to remove pollution from indoor air.
- Avoid exercising near busy roads or when there is visible smog.
Regular exercise is critical for the health of the lungs, heart, and entire body. Health experts recommend that everyone try some form of regular exercise, regardless of age or physical fitness. Even people with chronic lung conditions can see health improvements with regular physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults:
- Perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, each week. People participating in intense aerobic exercise, such as running, should aim for 75 minutes per week.
- Take part in strength-based activities, such as body weight exercises or weightlifting, at least 2 days per week.
Breathing exercises can also strengthen the lungs. Try the following:
- Inhale through the nose. Then breathe out through pursed lips — try to exhale for twice as long as inhaling.
- Practice belly breathing, which uses the diaphragm to pull air deep into the lungs. Take a breath and let the belly expand, then exhale so the belly contracts.
- Practice the two exercises above while breathing normally for 5–10 minutes each per day. When more comfortable with the techniques, a person can practice them while they are short of breath.
Certain dangerous chemicals can damage the lungs. People who work in manufacturing or industrial settings should ask about workplace safety measures, including asbestos testing. Wear a mask when working in dusty areas or places that might expose a person to toxic chemicals.
In the home, install a carbon monoxide detector, and place smoke detectors in each room. These will help reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation.
There are several methods to reduce the risk of lung diseases and infections.
A healthful lifestyle that avoids allergens, cigarette smoke, and other air pollutants can help keep the lungs healthy.
Speak with doctor about other strategies for reducing risk.