During the winter months, it is common for respiratory health to be compromised. Cold air can wreak havoc on our lungs and health and leave us with coughs, breathing issues, and weakened immunity. Usually, cold air is dry air, which can irritate our airways and lead to issues with normal respiration. In this article, we’ll share some tips for respiratory health so you can protect your lungs and breathe easy through the winter.
What Is the Respiratory System?
Your respiratory system is the system of the body that helps you breathe. According to Cleveland Health Clinic:
“The respiratory system is the network of organs and tissues that help you breathe. It includes your airways, lungs, and blood vessels. The muscles that power your lungs are also part of the respiratory system. These parts work together to move oxygen throughout the body and clean out waste gases like carbon dioxide.” (1)
What Affects Respiratory Health?
Many factors can affect your respiratory health. The air you breathe, of course, is a significant one. Respiratory health is also influenced by your diet, the amount of exercise you perform, as well as the way that you breathe. Some of the biggest factors that can lead to poor respiratory function include:
- Breathing polluted air
- Spending too much time inside (lack of fresh air)
- Poor diet or toxins in foods
- Lack of exercise
- Mouth breathing
Health Tips for Respiratory System
Some of the best tips for improving your respiratory health include:
1. Avoid Breathing Polluted Air
This one should be obvious, but it is the most important factor for improving your respiratory health. Because the particles in the air are microscopic, we typically don’t realize we are breathing in polluted air—except for smog or smoke. “Polluted air” is a broad term that refers to any form of air pollution.
Cities are often the most common place for exposure to polluted air, as the concentration of exhaust fumes, industrial pollution, and other forms of air pollution create poor air quality. Typically, the denser a city's population is, the more likely there is to be poor air quality. Areas with a lot of industrial plants and factories can also be a major source of pollution.
Additionally, the smoke from cooking foods (especially when cooking with harmful metals), smoking cigarettes, paint fumes, gasoline, chemical air fresheners, perfumes, pesticides, and chemicals on carpets and furniture, can all be sources of toxins that can impact your respiratory health.
The most important of all the respiratory health tips is to limit exposure to these pollution sources. The first step is to pay attention to the air you are breathing in. Notice if you are in a polluted environment or are around something polluting the air, and try to limit your time or get away from that environment as soon as possible.
It is also recommended to avoid smoking, as inhaling heated plant matter is very irritating to the lungs.
2. Limit Time Outside in Cold Air
While it is very important to get fresh air on a regular basis, during the winter months, it is best to limit your time outside if you live in a cold environment. Cold, dry air irritates the respiratory system and can be especially harmful to people with respiratory ailments. Cold temperatures can also increase the likelihood of getting sick, as the body is not as effective at fighting a virus when cold air enters the nose and upper airways. (2)
3. Create a Pure Inside Environment
We spend a significant amount of our time inside our homes. However, our homes can contain many major sources of our pollution. Dirt, dust, pet dander, cooking fumes, perfumes, hairsprays, nail polish, chemical air fresheners, cleaning products, chemicals on carpets and furniture, and even mold spores in some cases—all of these can produce toxins in the air that we ingest into our lungs and that negatively impact our health.
Most people don’t think about the air quality of their homes, but you can make a huge difference in your internal air quality with just a few simple changes. First, get rid of any unnecessary sources of air pollution—such as chemical “air fresheners” or scented candles that may smell nice, but are full of chemicals that harm your health. Also, swap out your toxic cleaning products for more natural alternatives.
After removing common sources of toxins and polluted air, focus on improving indoor air quality. This can be done by investing in a HEPA air filter, buying some indoor house plants, using an essential oil diffuser (be sure to use organic essential oils), and opening some windows to allow fresh air in from time to time. If you live in a dry environment, you may also want a humidifier for your bedroom that can help put some moisture back into the air. Vacuuming and keeping your house clean are also very important.
4. Practice Deep Breathing
As simple as this may sound, intentional deep breathing can have many benefits for your respiratory health. The majority of people pay very little attention to their breathing and, often, are only breathing at a fraction of their lung capacity. By remembering to pause and take a few deep breaths throughout your day, you can give your body a boost of oxygen and can also reduce some stress.
When stressed, we tend to breathe shallow breaths into our upper chest. When we are relaxed, on the other hand, we tend to breathe deeper breaths into our abdomen. Deep breathing can help calm your mind, lower stress, and allow you to take in more oxygen with each breath—all of which positively influence your health.
5. Exercise Regularly
Regular physical activity improves your lung function and helps your body make use of the oxygen you breathe. This is good for everyone, but especially for people with lung diseases who use more energy to breathe than others. Regular exercise can help to decrease symptoms of some lung diseases and can improve breathing. (3)
6. Eat A Nutritious Diet
Diet also plays a role in respiratory health and function (as well as in the health and function of all body systems). The body needs certain nutrients to function properly. The lungs, in particular, benefit from antioxidant nutrients and vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and other carotenoids, vitamin A, fatty acids, and some minerals such as sodium, magnesium, and selenium. (4)
Antioxidants help protect the lungs' cells from oxidative damage caused by free radical exposure. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants in the diet, so eating a variety of organic fruits and vegetables can help to support your lung health. A nice veggie or chicken soup can also be a great way to warm your body and support your immune system with beneficial nutrients—helping your body relax and breathe easier.
In addition to eating the right foods, staying hydrated and drinking adequate amounts of clean water each day is important. Drinking water helps to thin the mucus lining your airways and lungs, whereas dehydration can cause that mucus to thicken and slow down overall respiration—making you more susceptible to illness, allergies, and other respiratory problems. (5)
7. Use Herbs That Support Respiratory Health
Many herbs and herbal supplements can also help support your lung health. These can be taken as a warm tea, a tincture, capsules, or powders. Some of the best herbs for respiratory health include:
- Osha root
- Plantain leaf
We’ve included these top herbs for lung health in our Lung Detox & Support Tonic, a formula designed to support overall respiratory health and function. We only use organic and wildcrafted herbs in our formulas and do not add pesticides, preservatives, or other harmful ingredients.
Supplementing with an herbal lung formula like our Lung Detox & Support Tonic or simply drinking some mullein or mint tea can be an excellent way to support your lung health in addition to the respiratory system health tips mentioned above.
Your respiratory system is the system of your body that helps you breathe. Respiratory health is important for every function in the body, so keeping your lungs and airways healthy should be a top health priority.
Some of the best ways to support respiratory health and function include:
- Avoiding exposure to polluted air
- Limiting time spent outside in cold air
- Creating a pure environment in your home
- Deep breathing
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Staying hydrated
- Supplementing with herbs for lung health
While taking care of your lungs is always important, it becomes even more important if you live in the city, live in a cold and dry climate, or already have a respiratory condition. Following the respiratory health tips mentioned above can greatly support your respiratory health and function. Of course, if you have any concerns about lung health, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible to properly diagnose and treat any issue you may be experiencing.