We use our lungs nearly every moment of every day, so keeping them healthy is important. Here, experts reveal a few straightforward steps you can take to ensure your lungs stay strong.

By Toni Gerber Hope
September 05, 2019
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Many people associate lung cancer with lifelong smokers, but actually, the disease can affect anyone—in fact, lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in both women and men. The American Cancer Society reports that the disease "is by far the leading cause of cancer death" and estimates that nearly 143,000 people will die from lung cancer in 2019 alone. But take a deep breath! The good news is you can take control of your lung health with a few simple steps, whether you think you've been experiencing some symptoms of lung cancer or are interested in the signs of lung cancer. We consulted several experts who discuss some of the most common lung cancer causes, and how you can take control of your own lung health.

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Image courtesy of Getty.

1. Pay Attention to Indoor Air Quality

Where you live and breathe every day counts as much as the air quality outside. It’s important to keep pollution out and have good ventilation. Key sources of potential lung irritants include fireplaces, a dirty heating or cooling system filter, and a poorly vented range. Get your chimney checked yearly, clean and/or change filters, and keep appliances in good working order. You also need fully charged carbon monoxide detectors; this colorless, odorless gas can be deadly. Have your heating system serviced once a year; gas furnaces can leak carbon monoxide. If you use a space heater, follow the directions scrupulously to prevent leaks.

2. Avoid Secondhand Smoke

Smoking is responsible for about 80 percent of lung cancer cases, says Otis W. Brawley, M.D., Bloomberg distinguished professor of oncology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. But secondhand smoke is a big risk, too. Though the general rule is the more exposure the greater the risk, there’s no amount of secondhand smoke exposure we can say is safe, Brawley says.

3. Eat for Your Lungs

As is true for many health issues, the less inflammation in your body, the lower your risk of respiratory problems and lung cancer. Help decrease inflammation by eating foods high in antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats, including green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil.

4. Check Your Home for Radon

Radon, an odorless, colorless gas, can seep into your house from the breakdown of radioactive minerals in soil and rocks and is the second leading cause of lung cancer. "Everyone should test for radon," says Janice Nolen, national assistant vice president, policy, for the American Lung Association. "It’s best to do it in December or January, when the house is closed up so you get a read of how high levels can be." Home test kits work well; try the First Alert Radon Gas Test Kit, $13.98 on Amazon.

5. Exercise

Over time, regular aerobic workouts can increase lung capacity 5-15 percent. In one study, people who were physically active for more than an hour at least twice a week scored significantly higher on breathing tests. The greater your lung capacity, the more air and oxygen your lungs can hold and deliver throughout your body.


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