The act of breathing may seem very simple. However, it’s an activity we rarely think about, despite the fact that our lives depend on it. For this reason, the Yale University School of Medicine recently listed some factors that can directly affect respiratory health.

According to the report, after COVID-19, people have become more concerned about the health of the lungs. The publication states, “While one knows that smoking, pollution and viruses can damage the lungs, they may not realize that obesity and stress can damage them as well.”

Lung health affects the well-being of all of our organs and systems, according to Stephen Baldassari, MD, MHS, a physician in pulmonary medicine, critical care and addiction at Yale Medicine. “Our lungs and airways are directly connected to the outside world. With each breath, we are inhaling what is around us and ideally we should be breathing only clean air.”

According to the Yale School of Medicine, all indoor pollutants, as well as outdoor pollutants, can cause or worsen lung infections, cancer and other conditions, including asthma.

Indoors, the dangers of being surrounded by chemicals such as radon, asbestos, paint and building products, carbon monoxide, carpet, lead, and water damage were emphasized. The items mentioned are some examples that can make the air unhealthy.

Similarly, there are some outdoor pollutants too which can harm the quality of the air we breathe. These include car exhaust, power plants and wildfires. Despite being difficult to control, it should be noted that they can trigger episodes of asthma, make people sick and have negative effects on the lung development of young children.

Yale Medicine allergist and immunologist Jason Kwan, MD, emphasizes that people with asthma are especially sensitive to poor air quality. “We know that asthma is more common in urban areas and people living near major roads,” he said.

“An important aspect of obesity is how it affects lung volume. If someone is obese, they can’t always breathe fully or their lungs don’t have enough volume, which can lead to respiratory problems,” says Jorge Moreno, MD, an expert in obesity medicine at Yale Medicine.

Experts emphasize that excess abdominal fat limits the diaphragm’s ability to breathe properly and expand the lungs. Therefore, the lung volume of obese people is usually smaller, which makes them short of breath.

On the other hand, hormonal factors are also determining factors for both men and women. “As fat accumulates under the skin, fat cells secrete hormones. These hormones can cause inflammation throughout the body, including the lungs”, explains Dr. Moreno.

Physical activity is essential for lung health
Physical activity is essential for lung health

Dr. Baldassari recommends getting daily exercise and maintaining a diet consisting primarily of whole foods, vegetables, fruits, high fiber, and plant-based protein. “Try to get at least 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. If they can do more than that, that’s even better. However, any amount of exercise, even just a few minutes a day, is better than no exercise at all. Healthy diet and exercise are excellent for general and specific lung health,” commented the doctor.

Although many people are not aware of it, stress directly affects respiratory health. In stressful situations, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can contribute to rapid breathing. According to Yale Medicine, it is not dangerous if the lungs are healthy. However, in people with chronic lung conditions, it can lead to increased shortness of breath, as well as feelings of panic.

Dr. Baldassari also indicated that, in smokers, stress can create the urge to smoke more. “We know that cigarette and alcohol sales have increased during the pandemic. These trends probably reflect the stress we are feeling, which affects our entire body and is a very important determinant of our health,” says the Yale expert.

“We can reduce our stress by getting enough sleep at night and taking time each day to do meditation and focused breathing exercises. In the same way, it is important to spend time with friends and family who give us positive energy”, advises Baldassari.

In conclusion, the Yale School of Medicine states that infectious diseases also affect our respiratory system. These conditions include flu, COVID-19, pneumonia, whooping cough, RSV and the common cold, highly problematic pathologies, as they can be easily transmitted from person to person.

Although lung infection can be treated, it can be dangerous for infants, older people, and people who have lung disease or a weakened immune system. Fortunately, vaccines are available for many of the above conditions (with the exception of the common cold).

“Thanks to Covid, we have increased awareness of lung viruses, how they can affect the lungs, and the role of vaccination in preventing these diseases. Public awareness will ultimately help people take better care of their lungs,” concluded Geoffrey Chupp, MD, director of the Yale Center for Asthma and Airway Disease.

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