Having strong, healthy lungs is one of the best ways to protect yourself from respiratory viruses that circulate during the colder months. And with Covid-19 cases on the rise across the country, it’s more important than ever to make sure your lungs are in tip-top shape. These six easy tricks to strengthen lungs can help ensure you’re ready for cold and flu season.
Take a deep breath — through your nose.
The zero-effort way to keep your lungs strong and healthy? Breathing through your nose! Canadian scientists say your sinuses release nitric oxide, a compound that travels deep into your lungs when you inhale through your nose. Nitric oxide blocks the growth of viruses and bacteria, opens airways, and improves blood circulation to the lungs, increasing oxygen absorption by 20 percent. Ear, nose and throat specialist Len Zhang, M.D., adds that inhaling this way makes breathing easier, whether you have allergies, bronchitis, or a serious lung infection.
Munch on an apple a day.
Apple skins contain compounds (polyphenols) that reduce damaging airway inflammation, plus heal and strengthen tissues lining your lungs, says immunologist Joanna Makowska, M.D. No wonder Finnish researchers say eating one large apple daily boosts resistance to pneumonia, bronchitis, and chronic coughs by 32 percent and makes breathing during exertion feel three times easier. More good news: A study published in the International Journal of Food Properties proves polyphenols aren’t damaged during cooking, so enjoying your favorite baked apple treats also offers lung protection.
Download these stop-smoking apps.
The World Health Organization asserts that quitting smoking cuts the risk of bronchitis by 90 percent, plus reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 lung complications by as much as 70 percent. And using a free app like Smoke Free or QuitGuide can help. These apps track cravings, mood changes, and smoking triggers, offering skills and tips to sail through challenges with ease. In fact, studies show downloading a quit-smoking app before tossing cigarettes doubles your odds of success.
Give your shower curtain some TLC.
Yikes! Studies show 80 percent of curtains are speckled with lung-irritating bacteria and mold, which can be inhaled during steamy showers and baths. Thankfully, UCLA researchers say tossing your shower curtain into the wash with warm, soapy water each time you wash your towels eliminates 100 percent of these germs (as can spritzing with diluted color-safe bleach, if washing isn’t an option). The result: Risk of lung irritation and stubborn coughs plunges after the very first wash. (Another option? Treat yourself to a new shower curtain!)
Add fish oil to your daily routine.
Taking 2,000 mg. of tissue-nourishing fish oil daily slows lung aging by as much as 70 percent, cuts the risk of emphysema and chronic bronchitis by 69 percent, and improves your day-to-day lung function (even during exercise) by 80 percent. According to Indiana University scientists, the nooks and crannies in your lungs are lined with over 1,000 square feet of mucous membranes, and fish oil strengthens and heals every inch of that delicate, hardworking tissue.
Treat yourself to a salty steam.
Inhaling salty, moist air relaxes airways, loosens mucus and boosts blood flow to the lungs, reducing airway inflammation so you breathe 25 percent more easily if you do it twice weekly, say British researchers. In one study, the remedy improved breathing for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by 73 percent! When beach strolls aren’t an option, try this: Stir two tablespoons of sea salt into two cups of just-boiled water, drape a towel over your head, lean over the mixture and breathe for 10 minutes twice weekly.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.