Every minute of every day, two basic activities keep you alive from one moment to the next: your heartbeat and your breathing.
We’ve all read or seen a ton of information about how to keep your heart healthy and functioning properly, but what does anyone ever tell you about maintaining healthy lungs? (Except for “Don’t smoke.”)
That’s a sorry oversight, because researchers warn that if you’re over 30, your lungs have already begun to show their age, in a way that tests can detect. So if you want a decent chance of living to a ripe old age, keeping your lungs “younger” is a necessity.
It happens there are some foods you can eat to help do that. . .
Foods for Better Breathing
Your lungs always have to be ready to deal with volatile toxins that float in our air. Out-gassing from materials in our homes and cars (plastics, carpets, upholstery, you name it – they’re all loaded with chemicals), exhaust from cars and trucks, and a host of other pollutants can take their toll on lung tissue. It’s no wonder that by the time you’re in your thirties your lungs show signs of age.
But a study at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that certain foods can slow the aging of everybody’s lungs and even help protect the lungs of smokers and former smokers.
The ten-year study found that if you consume more than two fresh tomatoes a day or take in more than three servings of fresh fruit daily, your lungs age more slowly – retaining better function – than the lungs of people who eat less than that.
This study also revealed that processed foods that contain these items – like tomato sauce – don’t offer the same anti-aging effects as fresh fruits and vegetables do.1 I take this to mean that lycopene, a favorite nutrient from tomatoes, is not the secret of lung health, because lycopene can survive processing. It must be something else in the tomato.
Among the fresh fruits, apples were especially lung-friendly.
“This study shows that diet might help repair lung damage in people who have stopped smoking. It also suggests that a diet rich in fruits can slow down the lung’s natural aging process,” says researcher Vanessa Garcia-Larsen.
Dr. Garcia-Larsen adds that if you have any kind of breathing problem – and especially if you are at risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – you should probably be eating these foods every day.
Not Just for Breathing
Research has shown that how well your lungs work for breathing is directly linked to how long you are likely to live,2 but now there’s a new finding: The lungs are involved in other crucial functions central to good health.
For example, an investigation at the University of California-San Francisco shows that the lungs may produce most of the platelets – cells involved in forming clots – for the blood that circulates in the body.3
“This finding definitely suggests a more sophisticated view of the lungs – that they’re not just for respiration but also a key partner in formation of crucial aspects of the blood,” says researcher Mark Looney.
In these lab tests, say the researchers, they used very sophisticated new imaging techniques that make it possible to analyze the activities of individual cells within the extremely small blood vessels of the lung.
They discovered that although they previously believed the bone marrow was where most platelets were made, the lungs they looked at (in animals) were making ten million platelets an hour.
And in a follow-up study they found that the cells that make the platelets actually start out in the bone marrow but then travel to the lungs, where they go about their business of cranking out these important cells.
Of course, when you think about making your lungs younger, remember that exercise is also important. So don’t be a couch potato! When you are reasonably fit, more blood can circulate through your lungs – and this improves your life expectancy too.4
If you don’t exercise at all, start with at least a ten-minute walk every day, and try to work up to a half hour. Shopping malls are a popular place for older people to do this, to avoid bad winter weather and blazing hot summer weather.