Keeping our lungs healthy is critical to everyday life. Our daily activities and really life itself depends on our ability to breathe freely. Healthy lungs are responsible for providing the body with oxygen and removing carbon dioxide and waste.
Unfortunately, there are times when how the lungs function can become compromised. Whether this is the result of a lung disease, a lung infection, or a situation where allergies exacerbate lung problems, the end result is that there are significant impacts to daily life.
For those that are impacted by lung issues, supporting healthy lung function is always top of mind as well as being a daily priority. Fortunately, there are several natural measures that can be incorporated into our daily routine that are known to support overall lung health and improve lung capacity. These include breathing exercises that one can complete in just a few minutes per day as well as nutritional supplements that can be taken to support optimal lung function.
Exercises May Increase Total Lung Capacity
Several breathing exercises can be beneficial to lung health and serve to improve our ability to fully use our lungs by increasing lung capacity. One set of lung exercises that are helpful for optimizing breathing come out of the traditional Ayurvedic practice of yoga and are known as Pranayama. Simply meaning deep breathing and being the practice of breath control, these ancient techniques are renowned for improving lung function and reducing stress and anxiety as well. In fact, one small study looked at competitive swimmers implementing Pranayama breathing exercises for 30 minutes per day for one month and found that it had a positive effect on overall respiratory endurance. There are several different breathing techniques that come out of Pranayama and most can be done in just a few minutes per day. Highlighted here are a few techniques that are easy too incorporate.
Referred to as “ocean breathing” or “victorious breathing”, this is one of the most common breathing practices used in yoga. In this exercise, inhale through the nose first. Then, open your mouth and breathe out slowly while making a “Ha” sound. After doing this a few times, close your mouth and exhale through the nose. The sound should be a soothing note similar to ocean waves and serves to induce a calming effect.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
There are several different techniques used to accomplish alternate nostril breathing, though the idea is to sit in a relaxed position, spine straight up and down, close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose. Then, exhale completely and cover your right nostril with your finger. Inhale through only the left nostril. Now, cover both nostrils and hold the breath for a brief pause. At this point, cover your left nostril with your finger and uncover the right nostril, exhaling slowly and completely. Once you’ve exhaled, hold your breath there for a pause. Inhale through the right nostril, pause your breath while holding both nostrils closed and exhale through the left side. Repeating this procedure for a few cycles at a time is ideal. Each cycle may take up to 30 seconds.
The idea behind breath retention is to push the lungs to expand their capacity. Lung anatomy is unique so in order to practice this, get into a relaxed position and inhale fully and hold there for 5-10 seconds. By doing so, your lungs have time to fully expand, increasing overall lung capacity. Now, instead of exhaling, inhale just a little more, holding it as long as you can (just a few seconds) before exhaling. Repeat this procedure. It’s important to slowly work up to longer breath retention times as you get used to the technique.
Lung Health Supplements
In addition to breathing exercises, targeted nutrition in the form of supplements is a great way to support lung health. Lung health supplements include vitamins for lung heath including vitamin D as well as herbs for lung heath such as black seed powder (Nigella sativa) and others. We will touch on a few of these below.
As is well-known, vitamin D is critical for overall health and specifically for supporting immune system health. Vitamin D receptors are found in multiple organs throughout the body, including the lungs. There, it confers immune enhancing as well as anti-inflammatory properties as those with lower levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to specific lung issues. It also works to modulate immune function and the production of cytokines. The overproduction of cytokines – chemical messengers of the immune function – in response to certain lung health conditions is an important factor in damaging lung health. Vitamin D can prevent cytokine overactivity, leading to support for healthy lung function.
Black Seed (Nigella sativa) Extract
An herb with an ancient history of use in many cultures for supporting health, black seed extract has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities that are also beneficial for lung health. Studies with people experiencing lung health issues and allergy-related sinus problems including asthma have found that supplementing with black seed extracts can be highly beneficial for reducing the severity of these challenges. While black seed is vital as a supplement for a broad range of health conditions, it is particularly useful for keeping lung function at its peak.
Ubiquitously found in fruits in vegetables, quercetin is a flavonoid that works to reduce the effects of histamine on sinus and lung tissue. Studies in athletes and other individuals have also found that quercetin can enhance lung function and lung capacity by normalizing the inflammatory response in the lungs and providing antioxidant benefits. By relieving inflammation in the lungs, it serves to support clear airways and reduce respiratory concerns associated with allergies and other seasonal triggers.
Lung issues can arise from chronic conditions as well as from seasonal environmental factors and are widespread in the population. Taking simple measures that include breathing exercises as well as targeted nutrition can go a long way in alleviating lung concerns by strengthening lung function and supporting total lung capacity.
- Hakked CS et al. 2017. Yogic breathing practices improve lung functions of competitive young swimmers. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine.
- 5 Pranayama Techniques with the Power to Transform Your Practice—& Your Life. Yoga Journal. https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/importance-breath-yoga/