Our lungs are the first main organs to interact with the breathing air but remember almost all our organs will eventually receive something from the air we inhaled — ideally Oxygen. OK, let’s take a step back to remind ourselves of the composition of the air in our atmosphere. The composition of the atmospheric air is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 0.9% Argon, 0.04% Carbon Dioxide, and other trace gases and aerosols that in most cases are the pollutants that will deplete our health. You see, our modern lifestyle and the constant burning of fossil fuels (of any form including wood burning) has changed the balance and composition of the air in neighborhoods and cities. As a result, we end up with abnormal concentrations of pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc in the breathing air.
From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies are not designed to deal with the fine particles or the notorious toxic gases that are released into the atmosphere from our wrong investment in fossil fuels. With the exception of our gastrointestinal system which can discard unnecessary solids or liquid, our lungs cannot get rid of the air pollutants so they stuck and accumulate inside us. Some may be filtered by the liver.
Our noses or even our upper respiratory tracks can trap some coarse particulate matter, but there isn’t any mechanism to trap fine-PM or nanoparticles or gases, as a result, they end up reaching our lungs and the alveolar sacs where the exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. The pollutants can pass that barrier or even they are stuck there resulting in inflammation responses and trust me we don’t want inflammation anywhere. I don’t want to dive too deep regarding what’s going on inside us when air pollution reaches our organs because it gets ugly.
What can we do to keep our lungs and the rest of our organs healthy and happy?
Avoid Ambient Air Pollution & Fix Your Indoor Air Quality
The first and obvious thing to do is to avoid air pollution. Some apps can help you find the best route in case you commute. However, sometimes it is hard to bypass polluted and busy roads. For this reason, we need to prevent pollution from being released into the atmosphere in the first place. How? By educating the rest. I know it is a hard task but it doesn’t have to be a chore. Just convince one close person and teach him or her how to do the same with another person close to them. If we have learned something from COVID-19 is how fast something can spread.
Indoor air quality is something we have to pay closer attention to. Sometimes we dismiss the fact that we spend a lot of time indoors and outdoor pollution slips inside or we create indoor air pollution. We had better demand better indoor quality in our workplaces as we spend a lot of time there too. Quantify the pollution with an indoor air quality monitor as it is the easiest way to take control of your air. Remember, no one is looking after your indoor air quality, except you!
I love exercising, well no! Hear me out, I love the feeling of achievement each time I complete a physical workout because I know it benefits me on so many levels, including my lungs.
Full disclosure, I only exercise and recommend it to people when air quality is excellent and this is a condition that I have to follow 100% because when we exercise the demand for air increases, and our respiratory rates jump from about 15 times a minute to about 50 times a minute.
When we exercise we increase the capacity of air our lungs can hold and we increase the blood flow to our lungs, allowing the lungs to deliver more oxygen into the blood. Exercise reduces our blood pressure and improves our overall cardiac function so that our heart can pump more blood with each heartbeat. That means that our heart beats less time per minute, as a result, we extend its life span.
Don’t run next to busy streets! Indoors, make sure the air quality is excellent too.
Eat Healthy Food & Drink Healthy Beverages
We are what we eat, drink and breathe, so invest in healthy and vibrant food like seasonal fruit and veggies. Meat is also important but during a whole week dedicate one or two days to meatless meals. There are plenty of delicious, inexpensive, and climate-friendly recipes. I could recommend some so feel free to ask me. I don’t believe in strict diets but in well-balanced diets.
Unfortunately, the food and beverage industry is adding sugar and salt to make food and drinks more interesting for many decades, as a result, we are unable to distinguish the real flavor of a meal. My approach is to search for the taste of the plain food or drink. I can taste water, can you? Drink a cup of organic coffee or tea without sugar and try to find the notes of the different elements.
Our lungs need food and drinks rich in nutrients and antioxidants like vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates. These nutrients will reverse some of the damages and inflammation air pollution will cause to our lungs during our walk in the city center where traffic is awful. Did you know that the lungs are responsible for the transpiration of the “burned” calories out of our bodies in the form of carbon dioxide?
Meditate once a day if you can, but don’t burn stuff! I have seen people burning incense or dry plants (sage) when they meditate in their effort to create a pleasant indoor environment but these practices release a lot of particulate matter and VOCs which end up inside them.
Meditation and some breathing techniques are designed to strengthen the lungs and the muscles around them. People who suffer from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other lung diseases may benefit from practicing them, according to some scientific studies but make sure to ask your doctor.