One part of the human body has been disproportionately affected by the events of 2020– your lungs. Between Covid-19 and dangerous air quality caused by wildfires, it’s never been more important to safeguard your lung health. You may not be able to clean the air all by yourself or eliminate disease, but there are steps you can take to protect your lungs. Here’s how to breathe a bit easier this year:

1. Check-in with Your Doctor

Those with asthma or other breathing problems can take control of their lung health by getting regular check-ups and taking medication as prescribed. Talk to your doctor about whether you might be at a higher risk of respiratory illnesses or more sensitive to air pollution. You may need to take extra precautions to keep yourself healthy and avoid going outside when the air quality is labeled “dangerous for sensitive groups.”

2. Protect Yourself from Respiratory Illness

Even if you are healthy, it’s essential to protect your lungs from severe illnesses like influenza, pneumonia, and Covid-19. Hygienic practices like hand washing and mask-wearing can help reduce your risk of all of these illnesses. You should also stay home if you are sick. 

Vaccination can help prevent serious illness and save lives. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone ages six months and older. The pneumococcal vaccine (which protects against pneumonia) should be given to children under the age of two and adults over 65. Certain people outside these age groups might also need to get the pneumococcal vaccine, so check with your doctor.

In some regions of the United States, tuberculosis, a potentially fatal lung disease, is common. In these areas, it is essential that individuals judged to be high risk, such as school children or those with compromised immune systems, get tested regularly. Tuberculosis is treatable, and early detection can prevent serious complications. 

3. Get Adjusted

Did you know your spinal alignment could affect your breathing? It’s true! The muscles in the chest, upper back, and neck all work to support breathing. Tight muscles in this area, often caused by poor posture, can restrict chest expansion and lung capacity, making it harder to get a nice deep breath. The spine in the upper back can be adjusted to help these muscles function better. 

Your diaphragm is a muscle in your upper abdomen that plays a role in breathing. Put a hand on your stomach and take a deep breath. Did you feel your belly rise? That’s your diaphragm at work. Nerves from the thoracic spine (upper back), control your diaphragm. If this section of your spine is out of alignment, breathing problems can occur. Regular chiropractic adjustments can keep the spine and your nervous system working correctly and support healthy breathing.

4. Breathe Cleaner

The quality of the air you breathe is critical to lung health. If you are a smoker, quitting can drastically improve your lung and cardiovascular health and prevent you from being at a higher than average risk from respiratory illness. 

Make your house a clean air zone. You can do this by not allowing anyone to smoke indoors and by taking some simple steps to clean your indoor air. The filter on your HVAC system is the first place to start. Depending on what system you have, the filter will need to be changed every 3 to 6 months. Changing it on schedule will keep the air in your home clean and healthy.

 Keep windows closed on bad air days, but when the air outside is fresh, open up and let some in. If uncomfortable temperatures or allergies keep you from opening your windows on good air days, consider investing in an air purifier. An air purifier with a HEPA filter can filter out 99.9% of airborne particles, including dust, germs, allergens, and other pollutants. 

For many people, mold spores, dust mites, and dander can cause year-round indoor allergies that exacerbate breathing problems. An air purifier will help with this, but there are other things you can do as well. Vacuuming regularly and dusting with a damp cloth can keep dust and dust mites under control. If you live in a humid climate, a dehumidifier can prevent mold growth. In dry climates, a humidifier can keep your sinuses from over-drying and make breathing easier. 

In addition to keeping your indoor air clean, it’s important for  all of us to do our part in improving outdoor air quality. Using less electricity, carpooling, and purchasing cars, mowers, and other equipment with low emissions are simple ways you can help make the air cleaner for everyone. 

5. Work Out Your Lungs

Exercise is good for your whole body, including your lungs. An active lifestyle helps your lungs to work more efficiently and do a better job of getting oxygen into your bloodstream. You may feel that you can’t work out if you have asthma, but exercise has been proven to improve asthma symptoms. Talk to your doctor about how to workout safely and then make a regular habit of it– your lungs will thank you. 

Patients with COPD or those with other conditions that prevent them from working out can still strengthen their lungs with breathing exercises. Pursed lip breathing is a beginner-friendly technique that can help the lungs expel stale air and take in more fresh air. To do this exercise, simply breathe in through your nose and then purse your lips and breathe out through them for twice the amount of time you inhaled. So, for instance, you could inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 10.

 Diaphragmatic breathing– or breathing from your belly instead of your chest- has been shown to strengthen the diaphragm muscle and improve breathing for conditions like COPD. Activities like laughing and singing can also strengthen the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing is easy; just lie on your back and place one hand on your upper belly and one on your chest; when you breathe in, your belly should rise much more than your chest. Breathe out and press slightly on your stomach to make sure you are engaging your diaphragm. A stronger diaphragm will help you breathe easier.