UNC Health Care
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3 Habits for Healthy Lungs

Sure, you know your body needs oxygen to survive. But what are you doing to keep your lungs healthy and breathing easy?

Although we might take our lungs for granted, they are critical to your overall health. Your system needs air to function, but this process can’t happen when your airways are blocked or narrowed because of disease, overall poor health or aging.

“We’re all born with a finite amount of lung, and as we age, naturally we lose lung function.”

“We’re all born with a finite amount of lung, and as we age, naturally we lose lung function,” says Judit Kuhn, MD, MPH, with REX Pulmonary Specialists. “The more you can keep yourself in good shape, just like you would for any other organ, the better your lung health will be.”

Here are three habits Dr. Kuhn recommends to keep your lungs working their best:

  1. Quit smoking—now. Abstaining from smoking is the most important thing you can do for your lungs. “Smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which are two major killers in America,” Dr. Kuhn says. “Eliminating smoking greatly reduces major risk factors for early illness and premature death.” Smoking can also put you at risk for cardiac events and stroke. Even if you do smoke, it’s never too late to quit.
  2. Get as much daily exercise as you can. Working out, particularly aerobic exercise, is important to the health of your lungs. One of the most common reasons people see Dr. Kuhn is that they feel short of breath. “Although very often we find that there is an underlying lung disease, it’s not unusual to conclude that a patient doesn’t have lung disease but has significant deconditioning,” Dr. Kuhn says. This means a person is out of shape, which gives the impression of reduced lung function. Through exercise, “you can train your lungs, just like you can train your heart, to have improved exercise capacity,” she says.
  3. Know your family history. “Know the types of lung diseases that run in your family so that you know what to be screened for,” Dr. Kuhn says. In some cases, there are screening options for lung cancer and there can be a genetic predisposition to early COPD. Getting screened early can mean early detection and treatment.

And remember, smoking is not the only cause of lung disease. “Environmental pollutants and allergens as well as occupational exposures such as chemicals, dusts, asbestos and diesel fuels can all cause breathing problems,” Dr. Kuhn says.

“Our lung health impacts how we function on a daily basis, and it also works very closely with our heart and has a great impact on our cardiovascular health.”

Talk with your doctor about how you can improve your lung health and breathe easy.

Need a doctor? Find one near you. 

Judit Kuhn, MD, MPH, is a pulmonologist with REX Pulmonary Specialists, with locations in Cary and Raleigh.