When medical folks offer advice about healthy aging, they often focus on ways to keep your heart and brain healthier.
Of course, those are crucial for a longer, more enjoyable life. But there’s another part of your anatomy just as vital to your well-being… your lungs.
Fortunately, there are some easy, everyday tips you can – and should – follow to breathe better and enjoy increased vitality as you age.
First, keep your weight under control.
By now you’re probably well aware that if you gain excess fat around your waistline, the accumulated fat triggers inflammation that causes a host of health problems as you get older. Those problems can affect your breathing. And what may surprise you is that your lungs themselves can also “get fat” and complicate your breathing.
According to research in Australia, if you’re overweight or obese, you’re likely to experience a build-up of fatty tissue in the walls of the airways of your lungs.1 The scientists performing the study say this is a big reason folks who are overweight are more likely to suffer from wheezing and asthma.
You’ve Heard of Fatty Liver, Now There’s Fatty Lung
The Australian researchers studied lung tissue from the “Airway Tissue Bank,” which contains lung tissue donated from people who’ve died.
Their analysis shows that the amount of fat that collects in the airways correlates with a person’s body mass index (BMI), which reflects how overweight you may be. Plus, the researchers found that the increase in airway fat alters the airway’s structure and is connected to increased lung inflammation.
“We’ve found that excess fat accumulates in the airway walls where it takes up space and seems to increase inflammation within the lungs,” says researcher Peter Noble of the University of Western Australia. “We think this is causing a thickening of the airways that limits the flow of air in and out of the lungs, and that could at least partly explain an increase in asthma symptoms (in overweight people).”
Fruits and Tomatoes Can Save Your Lungs
Along with keeping your weight down, faithfully eating more fruits and vegetables—especially tomatoes— can also keep your lungs functioning better as you age.2
As researcher Vanessa Garcia-Larsen of Johns Hopkins explains, “Lung function starts to decline at around age 30 at variable speed depending on the general and specific health of individuals. Our study suggests that eating more fruits on a regular basis can help attenuate the decline as people age and might even help repair damage caused by smoking. Diet could become one way of combating rising diagnosis of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) around the world.”
Dr. Garcia-Larsen’s ten-year study at Johns Hopkins shows that consuming a daily helping of three servings of fresh, raw fruits and/or two tomatoes was linked to healthier lungs, even for people who smoked or used to smoke. Most important, Dr. Garcia-Larsen adds, “It also suggests that a diet rich in fruits can slow down the lung’s natural aging process.” It appears cooked fruits and tomato sauce didn’t provide the same benefits.
Give Your Lungs a Workout
As you might expect, getting exercise can also help you enjoy stronger, healthier lungs. For instance, a 20-year study at Northwestern demonstrates that folks who are more fit and exercise more enjoy better lung function as they age.3
Plus, you don’t have to be a runner or weightlifter to benefit– even doing yoga can help. Research involving middle-aged people with coronary artery disease who took yoga classes for three months showed they experienced significantly improved lung function over that period of time.4
So, as I always say, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as exercising regularly will go a long way to improving your health for many years to come.