Even though the heart gets a lot of attention, healthy lungs are also crucial for overall health. “You don’t say ‘My lungs bleed for you,’” says Patricia Finn, M.D., an Earl M. Bane professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Luckily, a heart-healthy lifestyle is also great for the lungs. But if your health habits aren’t up to par, or you’re putting your lungs in harm’s way, you could be at greater risk for lung infections and disease.
Here’s what to do, or avoid doing, to keep your lungs in tip-top shape:
Manage chronic conditions
Lung infections often develop as a complication of another chronic illness, says Michael Niederman M.D., clinical director and associate chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.
“Controlling any chronic medical problem can potentially reduce your risk of developing a respiratory infection,” he said.
You’ve heard it before, but pulmonologists can’t say it enough: Stop smoking. It’s the No. 1 cause of lung cancer deaths and a major risk factor for lung infections and disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is the 3rd leading cause of the death in the U.S., according to the American Lung Association.
Marijuana smoke is no better. It contains many of the same chemicals and carcinogens as tobacco smoke, says the American Lung Association.
Avoid germy situations
Covering coughs and sneezes is the polite thing to do, but it’s also good hygiene. A well-placed crook of the elbow can prevent the spread of viruses that cause the flu, the common cold, and more serious respiratory illnesses. Pneumonia often develops as a complication of a respiratory infection, especially the flu.
Anyone can get pneumonia, but older adults, children, and people with chronic diseases like asthma and COPD are especially vulnerable.
Get your shots
“Something as simple as a flu shot can prevent the flu, which can help avoid developing influenza pneumonia”—a viral form of pneumonia, according to Dr. Niederman. And there’s a downstream benefit because that can protect you from developing very serious bacterial pneumonias, he said.