We breathe 23,000 times a day, without realizing it. An intense work for our lungs that we have “rediscovered” with the Covid-19 pandemic, yet we never think about how to keep them efficient for long. As happens to the kidneys, the lungs are an “ugly duckling” organ: we ignore, for example, that due to oxidative stress they can age, even faster than the external organ par excellence, the skin. This was discussed at the Tempo della Salute, in a meeting with Maria Pia Foschino Barbarofull professor of respiratory diseases at the University of Foggia, Mike Maricformer world champion of freediving, specialist doctor and lecturer at the University of Pavia e Lisa Migliorinirunner, influencer and physiotherapist.
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How much do the Italians know
“About 1 in 3 Italians are not satisfied with the health of their lungs. The percentage increases among smokers (54%) and among those who live in polluted areas (35%) “, explains Professor Barbaro, referring to the data that emerged from the survey on our lung health conducted as part of the educational campaign” Protect your lungs ”, promoted by Zambon Italia. “When subjects recognize that the health of their lungs is not optimal, they experience a series of disorders to a greater extent: a sense of fatigue (60%, plus 17 percentage points compared to the general population), shortness of breath (54%, +25 points), sleep disturbances (59%, +18 points), frequent or chronic cough (53%, +29 points), mucus overproduction (51%, +26 points), wheezing or rattling breaths (48%, + 29 points). The positive aspect is that 3 out of 4 would like to know more ».
How they age
The respiratory system reaches its full development around the age of 25. “After that, with the passage of time, the lungs gradually begin to lose their functionality, even in the absence of disease,” continues Barbaro. «Furthermore, as we age, the immune system also loses its ability to organize an effective cell defense against infections and the end result is the accumulation of free radicals. Exposure to risk factors such as cigarette smoke, environmental, domestic and occupational pollution can lead to the production of oxidizing substances, cell poisons that trigger oxidative stress and inflammatory processes, conditions that amplify each other and that are present in many chronic diseases of today”.
This helps the lungs
«The first step to slowing the decline of lung function is to stop smoking: with the first puff we inhale 19 billion free radicals. It is never too late to stop, at any age », continues Barbaro. “To increase, however, the ability of tissues to eliminate free radicals and promote a more effective response to bacterial and viral invasions, it is important to acquire good habits: movement, correct breathing and a varied and healthy diet rich in antioxidants, therefore with lots of fruit and vegetables. Glutathione, produced by the liver, is the main antioxidant of our cells and is the key to counteract oxidative stress and to increase immune defense capabilities. Its deficiency can lead to an increased risk of lung damage. This is why it is important to regenerate it and increase the endogenous reserves. On the subject of domestic pollution, however, we learn to ventilate the rooms and keep the filters of the air conditioner clean ».
Breath and sport
“Breathing is the great ally for managing stress, emotions and daily anxiety,” adds the athlete Migliorini. «The trick is to learn diaphragmatic breathing: the diaphragm is the main muscle behind good breath. Inserting targeted exercises of correct and conscious breathing, alongside rehabilitation treatments and medical examinations, helps to improve the symptoms of neck pain, for example. In addition, bad breathing penalizes athletic performance. When I run and I feel short of breath, I adopt a trick: I exhale with a longer time than I inhale, in this way I interrupt the rhythm and start again with a new cycle of breathing that will certainly be better ».
The best stress reliever
“Although it is so easy to breathe, many do it badly.” Word of the world champion of freediving (he held his breath for 6 minutes and 15 seconds) Maric who has made breathing a profession that has also become the plot of Broken Breath, the docufilm that tells his story, finalist at the Ocean Film Festival World Tour. «I also happened to lose my breath when in 2005 my best friend, Filippo, with whom I was supposed to leave the next day, went to sea and never left that sea. From that day on, I was afraid to leave the house, I only ate ice cream, I began to suffer from insomnia. How did I get over that difficult time? Working on the breath and the mind, tools that allow you to go beyond your limits even in everyday life. We should learn to “orientalize” because breathing helps fight back pain, disorders related to poor posture, digestive problems. Breathing restores balance, connects with emotions, allows you to live better, to fight stress. It is the main form of self-control, it is a wonderful regulator of our emotions ».