Although we all know that without our lungs we would not be able to breathe and live, few people look up interesting facts about this vital organ. For example, did you know that the surface of our lungs is large enough to cover an entire tennis court? In fact, our lungs are such an amazing organ that they can "breathe" 7,500 litres of air per day. And since November is Lung Awareness Month, join our challenge and let’s dedicate these 30 days to them together!
Our lungs remain in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They breathe 12 to 15 times a minute, which means 17,000 breaths a day or more than 6 million breaths a year. And they have no free days! The lungs are one of the largest organs in our body. Apart from the fact that the surface area of both lungs is about the size of a tennis court, the total length of the airways passing through them is just over 2,400 kilometres, which is about the distance from Prague to Madrid.
Usually, we all have two lungs, but not everyone knows that the left lung is slightly smaller and has a notch to provide space for the heart. Each lung is then divided into lobes (the left lung has two, and the right lung has three), which resemble balloons filled with spongy tissue. Each lobe receives air from its own branch of the bronchial tree, but they all have the same function: bringing oxygen into the bloodstream and removing carbon dioxide. Therefore, it is possible – though, of course, not ideal – to live with only one lung.
Lung capacity is the amount of air our lungs can hold in one breath. It varies according to a person's size, age, gender and respiratory health. The maximum amount of air that the average adult male's lungs can hold is about six litres. Each day we inhale just over 7,500 litres of air, enough to fill a normal-sized swimming pool with air. This is the amount needed to oxygenate the approximately 7,500 litres of blood our heart pumps every day.
The main respiratory muscle is the diaphragm. This dome-shaped muscle wall does most of the work of breathing by expanding and contracting the chest to draw air in and out of the lungs. If your lungs are healthy, this is about 80 per cent. When the lungs need to be more efficient, such as when you have a lung disease that impairs breathing, or you're an athlete or musician who wants to increase your performance, a common place to start is with breathing exercises that target the diaphragm.
November is the month dedicated to our lungs and breathing, as well as associated lung cultivation and hygiene. Lung diseases constrict the lives of many, something we have become well aware of especially in the last two years with the global pandemic. Our lungs keep toiling without rest. Even when we are resting or sleeping, they keep transporting oxygen into our bloodstream and expelling carbon dioxide ever so diligently. They are thus part of a serious "business" run by a complex structure of organs and tissues: our respiratory system.
With awareness of lung cancer on the rise in people's minds, autumn is a great time to stop taking this vital organ for granted. Even though our lungs keep us alive and healthy, most of the time we don't have to think about them at all. And that’s where we're making a mistake.
Our body has a natural defence system designed to protect the lungs, keeping impurities and germs at bay so they don't enter them. Still, there is much we can do for our lungs ourselves. Here are some ways to keep our lungs healthy and reduce their risk of disease.
Cigarette smoking is a major cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Cigarette smoke narrows the airways and makes breathing difficult, causing chronic inflammation or swelling of the lungs that can lead to chronic bronchitis.
Long-term inhalation of smoke can destroy lung tissue, which may lead to changes that develop into cancer. If you haven't kicked the habit yet, now is the time to get to it.
"The first thing we need to do for our lungs is to abstain from smoking, whether it's regular cigarettes or electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping,"
"We know the long-term effects cigarettes have on the lungs and other organs, including the heart and blood vessels. While we don't know the long-term effects of vaping, we fear that they could be just as bad and that decades from now we will actually see the effects of long-term use of e-cigarettes."
Second-hand smoke, the use of chemicals in the home and workplace can all cause or worsen lung disease. Make your home and car smoke-free, test your home for the presence of radon, avoid exercising outdoors on days with bad air. And try to educate yourself more.
Even the quality of the outdoor air varies from day to day and on some days, especially in big cities, it is unhealthy to breathe at all. Knowing how outdoor air pollution affects our health and adopting useful strategies to minimize long-term exposure can help us stay well. Climate change and natural disasters can also directly affect lung health.
Colds or other respiratory infections can sometimes have very serious consequences, yet there are ways to protect yourself against them. Even such trivialities as frequent hand washing, avoiding places with a high concentration of people, especially during cold and flu season, good oral hygiene and having your lungs checked regularly by a doctor can help. Vaccination against the flu or the new threat COVID-19 may help as well.
As with common illnesses, regular check-ups help prevent potential problems. In fact, it is possible for lung disease to go undetected for a long time, until it is serious. That's why it's better to be sure. During regular check-ups, your doctor will listen to your breathing and ask about your concerns and family history.
On top of that, you should include exercise in your daily routine – whether you are young or old, thin or large, fit or living with a chronic illness or disability. Physical activity helps to keep your lungs healthy.
"To ensure proper lung health, you should exercise. Just as exercise makes your muscles strong and healthy, it strengthens your lungs and makes them more efficient. The average person should spend 150-300 minutes a week doing moderate-intensity exercise, or 40 minutes a day, or 75 to 150 minutes a week doing vigorous physical activity. If you can exercise for more than 300 minutes, of course, the benefits multiply,"
According to Chinese medicine, autumn is connected with the element of metal, which, out of the various organs, is associated with the lungs in November and the colon in December. November is the month when the year slowly tilts into winter. Nature calms down and we feel the need to spend more time at home. And that is why we should learn to manage our energy, just as we can observe in nature. This might even help us to weaken depression, fears and bad moods.
Proper breathing is extremely important as it prevents colds, improves our mood and helps us sleep well. It is usually recommended to breathe only through the nose, as the mucous membrane in the nose traps dirt and warms the air. The lungs are very susceptible to cold from the outside environment and are often subject to inflammation. However, a long-term weakening of the lungs also results in the whole organism wasting away, as the lungs supply every cell in the body with oxygen.
Typical weakened lungs symptoms include the inability to breathe, shortness of breath, coughing, extreme fatigue, heart palpitations, dry skin, and even more severe illnesses such as asthma and pneumonia. If your lungs are phlegmy, your intestines are phlegmy and clogged as well. On a mental level, it's an inability or unwillingness to communicate, as well as sadness.
The easiest thing we can do for our lungs in the fall is to focus on proper breathing with longer exhalations. A simple breathing exercise will not only energize us, but also set us in a positive mood for the day. Ideally, we should take ten deep breaths immediately upon waking, exhaling through the nose slowly. As far as foods go, it is good to include especially those that have a spicy nature or warm up the body, such as radishes, leeks, onions, horseradish, garlic. Ginger tea is perfect as well. It is also a good idea to adjust our sleeping pattern: to recharge our batteries for the winter months, we should go to bed early and get up at sunrise.
And since November is Lung Awareness Month, the Our Lungs Foundation decided to organize a charity fundraiser together with the hockey club Rytíři Kladno and the real-estate agency Y&T Luxury Property to raise money for a lung ultrasound machine.
"I am the head of the pulmonary department of the Kladno Hospital. I have been working there for more than 30 years. In cooperation with the Our Lungs Foundation, I am appealing and asking sponsors and donors to contribute to an ultrasound machine that would greatly improve the diagnostic process for lung diseases. For more information, please visit the website www.našeplíce.cz. Thank you."
Thus, we are asking everyone to show their solidarity and donate to the SONON 300L lung ultrasound machine that the hospital needs for its patients. You can support the fundraiser here.
"We support Czech doctors and hospitals. Our goal is to make the examination with the latest technology a standard available to everyone. We raise awareness about lung diseases and the risks that cause them. A key part of this is educating people about proper lung care. With your support, we will ensure that one day everyone will be breathing air through healthy lungs. We believe in early diagnosis,"
Sources: nhlbi.nih.gov, zijmesvujzivot.cz, lung.ca, lung.org, Our Lungs Foundation, own inquiry, www.darujme.cz/projekt/1205292