YMCA of Greater Erie

We all know exercising, taking care of our mental health, and eating a clean, balanced diet is the key to overall wellness. But it is easy to often overlook other important factors when working to maintain an active lifestyle – like the health of our lungs and the quality of the air we breathe every day.

The lungs are the motor of the respiratory system. Oxygen filters through the body with every breath taken. Sometimes, however, the oxygen we inhale is filled with toxins and pollutants that cause our lungs to perform poorly.

External Factors Affecting Lung Health

  •  Secondhand Smoke – There are more than 7,000 chemicals in secondhand smoke both from a burning cigarette and in the smoke exhaled by the smoker. A Surgeon General report found that 2.5 million nonsmokers have died since 1964 from inhaling secondhand smoke. Numerous lung-related health issues arise from secondhand smoke especially in children and infants including asthma, respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
  • Mold – Mold develops when moisture and humidity are present in an area for a prolonged period of time. Airborne mold particles can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and especially lungs – even for those without allergies. It is commonly found in air conditioning units, basements, attics, bathrooms, and any other damp, dark places.
  • Asbestos – Commonly used as a building material prior to the 1970’s, asbestos is extremely toxic and known to cause a chronic lung disease called asbestosis or a rare but aggressive cancer found in the lining of the lung called mesothelioma. Asbestos becomes a problem when it begins to deteriorate and particles become airborne. Once inhaled, the particles embed themselves in the lining of the lungs where mesothelioma may eventually develop and cause symptoms like chest pain, severe coughing and shortness of breath. Oftentimes, treatment for mesothelioma requires lung surgery, transplant, or removal, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy or a combination.
  • Allergens – Pollens, dust, animal dander, and mold are all airborne particles that can trigger respiratory allergy symptoms. Along with a stuffy nose and itchy eyes, these allergens can wreak havoc on the lungs. It is very common to experience wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, and airway inflammation even if you’re not typically an allergy sufferer.

Maintaining an active lifestyle is a challenge in itself, but becomes even more difficult when external toxins hinder peak lung function. However, it is not impossible with prevention tactics and the right medical care.

Keeping Lungs Healthy

  •  Be Mindful of the Air You’re Breathing – Be aware of your surroundings. If you live in the city, consider limiting time outside on hot days, or find the closest nature trail outside of the city for your next run. If you live in an older home, consider hiring a professional to inspect your house for asbestos, lead, or other toxins. Himalayan salt lamps and air purifiers can also improve indoor air quality.
  • Control What You Can – It’s impossible to completely control everything you inhale. The decisions others make around you impact air quality and it is unrealistic to avoid all exhaust from heavy traffic, ozone, and other air pollutants on a major scale. However, there are many things that can be controlled like the chemical makeup of the products you use every day. The most important and impactful preventative measure you can take is to stop smoking. As a smoker, you are not only risking lung cancer, heart attack, and stroke, but you’re also increasing that risk for those around you through secondhand smoke.
  • Get Tested for Allergies – Allergies are common, and can continue to develop into adulthood. If you notice new or increased allergy reactions are hindering your exercise, make an appointment with an allergist or Ears, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist to discuss treatment options.
  • Keep Exercising, Keep Breathing – Regular exercise is the best way to stay healthy and combat illness. Cardio activities like running, hiking, or playing sports increases endurance and stamina while simultaneously improving lung function. Activities such as yoga, pilates, and meditation focus on breathing techniques and have been found to significantly improve lung function and inflammation. As always, it is important to consult a doctor before taking on a new exercise regimen – especially for those with existing health issues.

Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November is an important reminder of how optimal lung function improves overall health year round. Be a little more conscious of what could be in the air we breathe!

Editors Note: The above was submitted by the The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance and is dedicated to raising awareness about lung health and the dangers of asbestos exposure.