Smoking can damage the lungs and affect lung capacity, making it difficult to breathe. The lungs contain tiny air sacs called alveoli where oxygen is transferred from inhaled air to the blood, according to the Cleveland Clinic. When these air sacs are damaged by smoking, the lungs and heart must work harder to take in oxygen, which can lead to shortness of breath, says Norman Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. But there are ways to help heal your lungs and increase lung capacity after smoking.
Do cardiovascular exercise. Run, speed walk, ride a bicycle or work out on fitness equipment, such as a stair climber or rowing machine, several times a week. "Aerobic exercise is the best thing you can do to heal the lungs after giving up smoking," Edelman says. Moving the large muscles of the body increases the demand for oxygen and expands the lungs ability to take in more air. This will help keep the respiratory system strong and may eventually increase lung capacity, according to Edelman.
Add swimming to your workout mix. Swimming uses more muscles and requires greater lung capacity than any other type of cardiovascular exercise, according to Alice Burron, an exercise physiologist in Cheyenne, Wyoming and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. "The lung capacity of swimmers in peak condition can be three times that of the average person," Burron notes. Try to swim laps at least once a week to give your lungs a good workout, Burron recommends.
Eat apples. In a British study of 2,500 men published in the journal "Thorax," regular consumption of apples was associated with increased lung capacity. The men who ate five or more apples per week had the greatest lung capacity. Edelmen says that other studies suggest eating apples may reduce your risk of lung cancer and improve your resistance to respiratory infections.
Try yoga. The focused breathing required to practice yoga may help increase lung capacity. Yoga exercises the diaphragm muscles that expand the lungs during breathing and allow more air to be inhaled into the lungs. "More air in the lungs may eventually stretch the lungs and increase lung capacity," Burron says. If yoga isn't your cup of tea, Burron adds that simply doing deep breathing exercises can also improve the health of your respiratory system and may increase lung capacity.
Take up a musical wind instrument. Playing a wind or brass instrument is a good way to exercise the lungs, which may improve lung capacity, Edelman says. The best musical instruments for increasing lung capacity? Edelman recommends a clarinet, flute, oboe, tuba, trumpet or trombone. Singing may also be helpful.
Be patient. Increasing lung capacity after smoking takes time. Edelman says that it won't happen overnight no matter what you do. According to the American Lung Association, it takes two weeks to three months for lung function to begin to improve after giving up smoking and up to nine months for shortness of breath to decrease. But regular exercise, a healthy diet and continued smoking cessation will help improve the health of your lungs and increase lung capacity over time.
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To keep your lungs healthy, stay away from smoke-filled environments. “Breathing secondhand smoke damages the air sacs in the lungs, increasing the risk of lung illnesses and diminished lung capacity, Edelman says.
Exercise may help you resist the urge to start smoking again, in addition to helping to increase lung capacity. Some research suggests that regular aerobic exercise reduces nicotine cravings, Edelman says. Exercise will also help stave off weight gain after giving up smoking.
Consult your doctor before starting a strenuous exercise program, especially if you’ve been a long-term smoker. Poor lung function due to smoking transfers more of the burden of exercise to the heart, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This could lead to heart failure.
If you have hoarseness, frequent coughing or shortness of breath, it’s important to see your doctor to be checked out for lung cancer and emphysema, Edelman warns. Delayed diagnosis of either disease can negatively affect the success of treatment.
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- Normal Edelman, MD, chief medical officer, American Lung Association
- Alice Burron, exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise
- Cleveland Clinic: Lung Disease Can Leave You Breathless
- "Thorax": Diet, lung function, and lung function decline in a cohort of 2512 middled aged men, Butland BK, Feb 2000
- American Lung Association: Benefits of Qutting Smoking
- "USA Today": Health Survey: Too Few Exercise, Too Many Smoke