Most people think about their breath at three points in their lives: when it stinks; when it’s in imminent danger; and when it’s heavy (after a workout). In our body’s ventilation system, our lungs involuntarily pull air in and push air out of our body. Most people conclude that as long you don’t pollute your body with such duct destroying toxins as nicotine or factory smoke, your vents should function smoothly throughout your whole life. Sounds good, but dead wrong. While smoking and other environmental toxins surely are potent attackers of your airways, many things can change the way your lungs bring oxygen in and push carbon dioxide out.
In fact when it comes to your airways, the small things pose the greatest threat. Even if you don’t have asthma or any other lung problem right now, you can learn more about your airways – and how to ensure that you are breathing as efficiently as possible. What’s astounding is that for as easy as it seems, many of us actually don’t have the slightest idea of how to breathe right. In Chinese medicine, lungs are the orchestra conductor of the entire body – they set the rhythm from which everything else follows. And that’s why yoga incorporates so much time teaching proper ways to breathe – to put your whole body in balance.
Your Lungs: The Anatomy
Think of your two lungs as large sponges. They’re light and fluffy when filled with air, but they get bogged down when they get wet (as they do in some diseases) and don’t exchange air very well in those cases. When air enters your body, it’ll go down your trachea. That’s your trunk – the one airway at the beginning of the process. Then it’ll quickly divide into two airways to feed into two lungs; those are your bronchial tubes. Those airways break off into four, then eight, then hundreds of thousands of little airways in each lung. Those airways are your bronchi. At the end of each airway are tiny sacs called alveoli. Healthy lungs have hundreds of millions of alveoli. Each alveolus is covered with a thin layer of fluid that helps you breathe by keeping the alveoli open so oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide is excreted. Your lungs also have millions of tiny hairs called cilia. Cilia act like little brooms that sweep away all the stuff that’s caught in your mucus. They constantly move back and forth to clear your lungs of nasty stuff that makes its way in with every breath (that’s why where you live can have a sizable effect on your lungs from toxins. The last part of your lungs that influences healthy breathing is the musculature around them. Your diaphragm is a large muscle at the bottom of your chest that pulls air down into your lungs. It’s important to know that the movements of breathing are like other movements in your body, they’re controlled by a muscle. To inhale deeply, you must move your huge diaphragm muscle down to suck air into the lungs. This is best done by pushing out your belly when you start to breathe in.
Common Respiratory Distresses – The lifesaver of your body, your lungs need air to keep you afloat. With restricted airflow, they don’t have enough fuel to support the rest of your body. At best, labored breathing is uncomfortable. At worst, its life threatening. Sleep apnea and asthma are the most common lung abnormalities.
Your Lungs: The Live Younger Action Plan
Air is everything. It gives you power. It gives you life. You have the opportunity to make your respiratory system as efficient and clog-free as possible. By making a few simple changes – and at least one life-altering change, if you are a smoker – you have the ability to make your pipes powerful.
Action 1: Go Deep
Stop right now for a second and focus on your breathing. Now look down. See anything moving? Probably not. That’s because most people typically take very short, shallow breaths – the kind that typically comes from your chest. For you to really improve your lung function, you need to practice taking deep, whole breaths.
Diaphragm is the muscle that pulls your lungs down, so your lungs expand and you can really circulate oxygen down throughout the whole lung. To learn proper breathing technique, take yoga classes. What will deep breathing get you? For one, it helps transport nitric oxide – a very potent lung and blood vessel dilator that resides in your nasal passages – to your lungs. So it makes your lungs and blood vessels function better. Taking deep breaths helps your lungs go from 98 percent saturation of oxygen to 100 percent saturation of oxygen. It also helps improve the drainage of your lymphatic system, which removes toxins from your body. It also helps in stress relief. The deep breaths act as a mini meditation, and from longevity standpoint is an important stress reliever. Shifting to slower breathing in times of tension can help calm you and allow you to perform, whether mentally or physically at higher levels. Take ten deep breaths in the morning, ten at night, and as many as you need in the middle.
Action 2: Take a Test
Briskly run up two flights of stairs. That’s it. If you can do either of those without pausing to rest, your lungs are probably in pretty good shape. But if you experience extreme shortness of breath or have to stop, it’s a sign your lungs are suffering at least some distress, even if it’s the heart’s fault. We recommend that you do this test every month, as a way of periodically checking your lung function, plus you gain insights into your overall fitness level. When you exercise over this compact period of time, shortness of breath means all your organs are feeling deprived of oxygen, and that some of them might not be getting enough.
Action 3: Be Your Own Air Traffic Controller
Since you can control what goes in and out of your mouth and nose, you have some say about the quality of air waiting to enter your system? Here are a few additional things you can do to go with the flow.
- Go to The Nursery – Quite simply, plants improve air quality because they produce oxygen in the room, and remove pollutants from the air.
- Avoid Toxins – It’s just part of today’s society that we’ll be exposed to such toxic substances as pollution, carbon monoxide. But you can take steps to avoid being exposed to them. Keep your windows closed when on major roads in large cities (or take side streets). If you can avoid jobs where you are exposed to pollutants and toxins, it can have a Real Age of up to 2.8 years younger. Avoiding pollution at work decreases arterial hardening and decreases all diseases related to arterial aging, like infections of the lung, asthma, heart disease, stroke and memory loss. By the way, the better sealed a house is, the more you lock in toxins emitted from construction materials. So keep your windows open at times to let in fresh air, this can make you and your family younger.
Action 4: Shake Your Butt
Pumping smoke down your airways makes you eight years older – and puts you at risk for lung diseases like cancer, emphysema, and bronchitis. One of the greatest things you can do for yourself is clear your life of smoke – whether you or someone in your family is the one smoking. A good damage control plan won’t bail you out. Your only option is to stop. The positive side is that just two months of being smoke-free can make you one year younger. After five years of smoke free living, a former smoker can regain seven of the eight years lost to smoking. The hardest part of quitting comes in the first week. You feel cravings, you’re sluggish, and you start producing and expelling a lot of gunk from the lining of your lungs. But all that subsides after a few weeks, if you can push it through.
If you can make any change that will improve your health and make you live younger, it’s this one. For once in your life be a quitter – and be proud of it. Think of the rewards: no matter how much or how long you’ve smoked, you can reverse seven-eights, usually, of the bad effects of smoking within five years.
If you’re around a lot of smoke – Second hand smoke is one of the few actions that another person can do that can actually contribute to your aging process. Spending an hour in someone else’s smoke is like your smoking four cigarettes yourself. In other words, for every cigarette that at the consequences: spending four hours a day in a smoky environment can make your Real Age up to 6.9 years older. That’s all the more reason that if you live with a smoker, then you have to encourage that smoker to follow the steps to quitting.
Action 5: Get Enough Sleep
Sleep apnea is defined as any period during your sleep in which you stop breathing for more than ten seconds at a time. When you stop breathing, your body actually wakes itself up – without your consciously knowing it. The effect is that you can never get into a deep sleep, so your body never gets the rejuvenating effect of deep sleep. Your body needs two things during the night. It needs REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and it needs slow-wave sleep. To get into REM sleep, you need about ninety minutes of consistent sleep. So if you’re waking up ten times an hour, which is typical for people with sleep apnea, you’re never getting into REM and won’t wake up refreshed.
Sleep is something you look forward to, and it makes you feel great when you’re done. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most crucial things you can do for your body. Getting about 7 hours of sleep a night can make a profound difference on your brain and heart and make you up to three years younger. Lack of sleep makes you less mentally aware and more fatigued; it causes you to eat more, and places you at a higher risk of accidents. Plus, being fatigued puts you at a greater risk for making choices that age you. But if you have sleep apnea, it means you’re simply not getting enough of the rejuvenating REM and slow –wave sleep. While sleeping pills may seem like a good idea – because they do work in the short term – they have harmful effects over the long term because of their addictive qualities. Instead, you can try these to help you sleep.
Get in a schedule – Your body clock gets up at the same time everyday whether you have a full day of work or a full day of cartoons. On the weekends try to rise within one hour of the time you get up during the week.
Change your temperature- The ideal setting is a cool, dark room if you’re having trouble sleeping, try removing a layer of clothing (like socks).
Eat small portions before bed – Eat foods that contain melatonin – a substance that helps your body clock. That means oats, sweet corn, or rice. Or try a complex carbohydrate that has serotonin, like vegetables or whole grain wheat. You can also go with the classic remedy: low fat milk. Of course you know to avoid stimulants like caffeine and exercise near bedtime.
Use your bedroom only for sleep – It is best to take work materials, computers, and televisions out of the sleeping environment.
About The Author
Think Inc. is a leading name in the field of corporate trainings and publication of books on self management, how to keep your family happy, selling & customer service skills.