Love Your Lungs

Each week, approximately 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a lung disease.

The pandemic has taught us how important our lungs are to us and how important it is to look after and LOVE OUR LUNGS.

What do your lungs do?

Every cell in your body needs oxygen in order to live and over one fifth (20%) of the air we breathe is oxygen. When you burn up energy, such as food from your diet or fat from your body – your cells literally break it down using oxygen to produce water and carbon dioxide and release a whole lot of energy to keep you ALIVE. The lungs’ main job is to take in oxygen that can then be carried by the blood to every cell of your body, while also removing waste gases such as carbon dioxide.

To burn up sugar and fats to give you LIFE ENERGY, you must breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide – you have no choice. Just try and hold your breath – stopping breathing is not an option.

Because you are bringing large volumes (litres with each breath) into the lungs and close to the blood stream, you are very vulnerable. What if you breathe in a bacterium or a COVID-19 virus particle or a toxic gas? Your lungs have to be on high alert. Your lungs together with the rest of the respiratory system are a natural defence system – they protect you from harmful substances by making you cough or sneeze when they identify harmful or unclean air. Remember what happens when food or water go ‘down the wrong way’ – the lungs close off the vocal cords, a sort of rapidly closable barrier to the lungs, and you cough up anything that has already got past the vocal cords as an explosive, very loud, expulsion of air and anything else that should not be down there.

The respiratory system, but especially the nose and sinuses, is also the body’s natural temperature control and humidifier – it brings the fresh air up to the correct body temperature and also helps get it to the right humidity level. The respiratory system starts at the nose. Breathing in through the nose is essential for optimal lung health. Just try gently breathing in and out through your nose. We move 25,000 litres of air a day through our noses. Because of the large volumes involved, we can’t breathe underwater, even though there is oxygen in water, we just could not get 25,000 litres of water in and out through our nostrils every day. Please do NOT try this in the bath tonight! Fish get around it by swimming through 25,000 litres of water and using their gills to extract oxygen. For us humans, air is lighter and easier to move in and out than water, hence we are land-bound.

Your lungs help you breathe. And we all know that Breathing Matters, so how can we help our lungs?

How to care for your lungs?

Avoid Infections

  • Breathe through your nose where possible.
  • Take an annual flu vaccine.
  • Get your COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Wash your hands often with soap or hand-gel to stop the spread of germs.
  • Avoids crowds during the cold and flu season.
  • Wear a facemask when out and about.

Air pollution

  • Stay away from pollution hotspots, such as main roads and busy road junctions.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors on high pollution days. Check for Daily Air Quality Index alerts on the Met Office website:
  • On summer days, those with hay fever need to be careful. See our tips on how to cope:

Don’t smoke

  • Smoking can destroy your lungs – Cigarette smoke destroys the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs that allow oxygen exchange. When you smoke, you are damaging some of those air sacs. These do not grow back, so when you destroy them, you have permanently destroyed part of your lung.
  • Smoking can lead to lung infections – Your airways are lined with tiny brush-like hairs, called cilia. The cilia sweep out mucus and dirt to help keep your lungs clear. Smoking can temporarily paralyze or even kill cilia. This makes you more at risk of lung infections.
  • Smoking can scar your lungs – Smoking causes inflammation in the small airways and tissues of your lungs. Continued inflammation builds up scar tissue, which leads to changes to your lungs and airways that can make breathing hard. Years of lung irritation can give you a chronic cough with mucus.
  • Secondhand smoke – Exposure to high levels of secondhand smoke can produce an acute decline in lung function and airflow. It is important to avoid at all costs.
  • It’s never too late to quit smoking – Check out our free guide to help:

Avoid ‘bad air’ indoors

  • Choose low VOC cleaning products (volatile organic compounds) – VOCs evaporate into the air when we use them, even while they are stored. Inhaling too many VOCs can increase your risk of developing an allergy or even asthma.
  • Keep your home well ventilated – Especially after cooking or heating your house. This will dilute and remove the pollutants released by cookers, heaters and open fires. Extractor fans over your stove can be a good idea.
  • Aim for a plastic-free house – Research shows that plastic gives off microplastics into the air, and some can end up in our lungs. Think of swapping plastics with more sustainable and safer materials like wood, glass, metal or cotton.
  • Ask smokers to smoke outside the house to avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Indoor plants – Adding plants to our homes increases the oxygen and air quality in our living areas thanks to plants’ natural abilities to remove certain toxins from the air. And they look good too.


  • Do not avoid exercise – This keeps your lungs healthy. Regular exercise makes your muscles stronger, as well as your lungs and heart. As your fitness improves, your lungs become more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to the working muscles.  Your lungs need a workout too! Don’t worry about being a bit short of breath, but do stop if you develop chest pain or feel dizzy.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation – It may be beneficial to enrol in a pulmonary rehab course. This is a program of exercise, education and support to help you learn to breathe and get stronger.
  • Be active every day – If a fitness regime feels overwhelming, being active can be as simple as walking to the shops to get your daily newspaper.
  • Breathe better – Breathing exercises such as Buteyko can help your lungs. Read our article on this technique:
  • Singing – Singing teaches you to breathe more slowly and deeply.
  • Laughing – When we laugh heartily, we engage the diaphragm raising our heart rate which helps the oxygen travel to our cells which can boost our lung capacity.
  • Use your oxygen – You might find that using oxygen when you exercise makes a beneficial difference. You can be more active and have less worry.
  • Be safe – Exercise indoors when pollution levels are high.
  • It is important to check with your doctor about taking on a new fitness regime.

Eat well and keep hydrated

  • Prioritise protein – Protein is vital for building and repairing muscle tissue. People with a lung condition often require more protein to keep their strength up to fight infection. When your body doesn’t get enough protein, it might break down muscle for the fuel it needs. This can make it take longer to recover from illness and make you more likely to pick up infections. Protein is also very important for a healthy immune system.
  • Vitamins and minerals – Eating foods rich in vitamins A, C and E and the minerals zinc, potassium, selenium and magnesium will all help keep your respiratory health nice and high.
  • Keep hydrated – Staying hydrated plays a role in your lung’s health as well: drinking water helps to thin the mucus secretions that naturally accumulate in your lungs each day, which then allows you to breathe more easily.
  • Smoothies are a great way to fit in extra vitamins and minerals, protein and healthy fats as well as keeping you hydrated! Start by choosing a good base, such as dairy milk or almond milk. Then add a good source of protein such as yogurt, cottage cheese, or protein powder. Next, add some healthy fats, such as half an avocado, a handful of nuts or seeds or a tablespoon of peanut butter. To finish off your smoothie, add some fresh or frozen fruit for flavour and extra nutrients. Blend it all up and add ice!

When to see your doctor

  • Watch out for symptoms of lung disease, or worsening symptoms. You may need to see your doctor if you experience any of these:
    • Wheezing – A sign that your respiratory system could have a blockage.
    • Shortness of breath – That doesn’t go away after exercising. Labored or difficult breathing is also a warning sign.
    • Chronic cough – A cough of more than 6 weeks.
    • Coughing up blood – This could be coming from your lungs or upper respiratory tract.
    • Chronic unexplained chest pain – If this lasts over a month, especially if it gets worse when you breathe in or cough.
    • Chronic mucus production – Increased mucus (phlegm or sputum) production of over a month. This is produced to defend you against infections or irritants and could indicate lung disease.
Don’t take your lungs for granted – LOVE YOUR LUNGS!


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