Lung health has gained more attention in recent times. Learning how to strengthen your lungs can make a remarkable difference in your health. However, if you’ve always had a condition such as asthma or you were exposed to toxins such as second-hand smoke, thinking about lung health may be plain frustrating. Being picked last for sports teams at school, or struggling to keep up in gym classes, can make us lose our interest in physical activity. We tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter, that maybe only intellectual pursuits “count” in life. That when injury or ageing sideline our athletic friends, we’ll have the last laugh as we would still have our interests.
However, it’s important to learn how to strengthen your lungs. In return for your efforts, your body receives more oxygen, which is vital for everything you do. Your future health will benefit too, with a lower risk of illness, and slower age-related decline in lung function alongside a higher capacity, to begin with. Let’s look at how lifestyle, diet and supplementation may help.
Swimming was my first, and still is my favourite, way to improve lung health. As a child, I had asthma until I was almost eight years old. Doctors said I would have a chance of growing out of it at around the age of 14, but I beat their best expectations by several years. Swimming – in a heated pool, a regular swimming pool and at the beach – was the only thing I did to change my situation. My parents knew to do this thanks to one of my cousins, who also donated his nebulizer to me as he no longer needed it.
Peer-reviewed research shows that swimming should be considered when you’re figuring out how to strengthen your lungs too. A review involving children with asthma found a significant increase in maximum oxygen consumption by an average of 9.67mL/kg/min. Resting lung capacity (FEV1%) also improved by a mean difference of 8.07. Research on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has found benefits from hydrotherapy and balneotherapy, where natural bodies of water are used for swimming or bathing.
Yoga breathing techniques, such as pranayama, could be a solution if you want to learn how to strengthen your lungs from home. A study of 43 people with moderate to severe COPD tested the effects of a 12-week pranayama course on lung strength, measured as distance on the six-minute walking test. The group learning pranayama found an improvement in walking distance by 28 metres (92feet), while the control group lost 15 metres (almost 50 feet).
The breathing technique chosen was the Dirgha (long) Three-Part Breath, which is both simple and stress-relieving. Its focus on slow, complete breathing may improve lung emptying, an issue in people with lung conditions. If you would like to try out the Dirgha breath, here is a helpful tutorial.
Yes, you can buy breath training devices to strengthen your lungs at home – no travelling to a clinic for every session! Having a device is much like buying exercise equipment, as you just invested financially into your health journey with a physical reminder that can sometimes give you a visual indicator of the progress you’re making.
Some devices use pressure threshold, a lot like weightlifting for your lungs. Here, you challenge your breathing muscles with a spring-loaded valve that only opens when you can exhale with enough force. Tapered flow resistance creates resistance on inhalation with a computer-controlled valve. These automatically taper off to match your natural rhythms of force and allow you to train a wider range of your breathing muscles. With the classic three-ball lung trainer, you can see how far you manage to elevate the balls in each chamber, and time how long you can keep them up. Keeping track of your timing and respiratory force with any of these training devices is a good way to stay motivated too.
Avoiding Air Pollution
Air pollution is not your lungs’ friend. Particulate matter, benzene, and other pollutants are known to increase the risk of COPD and worsen asthma. Just like cigarette smoking or second-hand smoke, particulate pollution causes oxidative stress, leading to inflammation, heightened risk of over-sensitivity and tissue damage.
Perhaps you live in a polluted area and cannot or don’t want to relocate; you have a pet you’re allergic to, or someone you live with smokes. In these cases, home air filtration could be a way to reduce the effects of pollution. Home HEPA filters are available, which are standardized to remove over 99% of particles less than 0.3 microns in size. This takes care of the vast majority of particulate matter, one of the most infamous types of pollution thanks to its tiny size range. Studies, fortunately, show that using a HEPA filter at home can reduce the severity of asthma, and sometimes a positive effect can begin within two weeks. They may even work when the source of air pollution comes from within the house, such as a beloved pet whose fur you react to.
Your microbiome is relevant in more areas than just your gut. Even your lungs and mouth have their own ecosystem of bacteria, and through breathing these two become very similar. Yes, the dysbiosis that increases your risk of dental problems is now also linked to asthma, COPD and lung infections too. When inflammatory species of bacteria, or the inflammatory signalling chemicals they produce or stimulate, are inhaled, this can pass inflammation onto the lungs. Over time, this may lead to increased tissue damage.
Certain vitamins can also help, especially if you’re just starting out with learning how to strengthen your lungs. Vitamin D, for example, can keep the immune system in balance and prevent it from reaching the hypersensitivity levels seen in asthma. Vitamin A, which we can make from beta-carotene, helps lung tissue regenerate in the face of everyday wear and tear. Altogether, higher vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene intakes are linked with lower rates of illness such as bronchitis and better lung capacity.
Additionally, research on the effects of air pollution shows that vitamins C and E can reduce the damage caused by ozone pollution. Vitamin E is known as a chain-breaker antioxidant because the oxidative stress in fatty tissues that it helps to prevent happens has a chain reaction. Fatty tissue oxidation is infamous for the damage it can cause, as such a chain reaction won’t easily stop. Vitamin C helps regenerate vitamin E, illustrating how important it is to have a diverse intake of antioxidants instead of taking high doses of one type alone. Avoiding air pollution and other toxins is always the best method, but if this isn’t possible, we can partially prevent them from harming us.
When seeking solutions to strengthen your lungs, some supplements can play a key role in improving lung capacity. One of these is N-acetyl cysteine, the precursor to glutathione, known as the “master antioxidant”. A study of around 1000 people demonstrated that N-acetyl cysteine can reduce COPD exacerbations by 22%, thanks to its protective effects.
If you have asthma, black seed (Nigella sativa) could be another effective remedy. Research shows it can relax the airways’ smooth muscles; reduce inflammation; balance the immune system and provide an antioxidant effect. In human trials, these effects have led to improved asthma control.
Or perhaps you need to heal your lungs from illness or injury. Glutamine may be a remedy for you, as it fuels the regeneration of fast-growing tissues, including the intestinal lining. Both the lungs and intestinal lining need to repair themselves quickly because their interactions with the outside world mean more exposure to damage. Lab studies, fortunately, show that glutamine increases levels of newly formed collagen after injury, pointing to faster regeneration.
If you struggle with weak lungs and are getting frustrated with their impact on your quality of life, there is hope. Certain lifestyle, dietary and supplemental interventions can help to improve your lung capacity and soothe inflammation. However, everyone is different, so what’s best for you will differ from the next person. Want to find out more about yourself? Get a CircleDNA test to help you find the best treatment.