What can we do to strengthen our lungs? We can improve lung function with simple lifestyle modifications including exercising, eating a plant-based diet with a focus on fruits and vegetables, expanding lung capacity with an incentive spirometer, and quitting smoking and vaping, which damage the lungs.
Not only people with compromised lungs will benefit; studies suggest “healthy” people will also benefit.
Let’s look at the research, taking a three-pronged, or “forked,” approach: diet, incentive spirometry and exercise.
Diet Studies in Asthma
In a randomized controlled trial of asthma patients, results show that after 14 days those who ate a low-antioxidant diet had less lung function compared to those who ate a high-antioxidant diet.
Additionally, those who were in the low-antioxidant diet group also had higher inflammation at 14 weeks. Those who were in the low-antioxidant group also were over two-times more likely to have an asthma exacerbation.
The high-antioxidant group had a modest five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily, while the low-antioxidant group ate no more than two servings of vegetables and one serving of fruit daily. Carotenoid supplementation, instead of antioxidant foods, made no difference in inflammation.
Diet Studies in COPD
Several studies demonstrate that higher consumption of fiber from plants decreases the risk of COPD in smokers and ex-smokers. In one study of men, for example, results showed that higher fiber intake was associated with significant 48 percent reductions in COPD incidence in smokers and 38 percent incidence reductions in ex-smokers.
The high-fiber group ate at least 36.8 grams per day, compared to the low-fiber group, which ate less than 23.7 grams per day. Fiber sources were fruits, vegetables and whole grain, essentially a whole foods plant-based diet.
The high-fiber group was still below the American Dietetic Association-recommended 38 grams per day. This is within our grasp.
In another study, women had a highly significant 37 percent decreased risk of COPD among those who consumed at least 2.5 serving of fruit per day compared to those who consumed less than 0.8 servings per day.
The fruits shown to reduce COPD in both men and women included apples, bananas, and pears.
What is an incentive spirometer? It’s a device that helps expand the lungs by inhaling through a tube and causing a ball or multiple balls to rise. This opens the alveoli and may help you breathe better.
A small study showed that those who trained with an incentive spirometer for two weeks increased their vital capacity, right and left chest wall motion, and right diaphragm motion. This means it improved lung function and respiratory motion.
Participants were ten non-smoking healthy adults who were instructed to take five sets of five deep breaths twice a day, totaling 50 deep breaths per day. The brands used in the study are easily accessible, such as Teleflex’s Triflo II.
Exercise can have a direct impact on lung function. In a study involving healthy women ages 65 years and older, results showed that 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise three times a day improved lung function in as little as 12 weeks.
Participants began with a 15-minute warm-up, then 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise on a treadmill, followed by 15 minutes of cool-down with stretching.
Since most of us don’t have access to a treadmill right now, note that any physical exercise will be beneficial.
We should be working to strengthen our lungs, regardless of COVID-19. However, to potentially reduce our risk of severe COVID-19, this three-pronged approach of lifestyle modifications – diet, exercise and incentive spirometer – may help without expending significant time or expense.
As Yogi Berra would say, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” There is no time to waste.