Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. If you tried, could you count how many times you have done that today? You breathe in and out anywhere from 15-25 times per minute, without even thinking about it! You couldn’t stop yourself from breathing, even if you try! It is easy to take your lungs for granted because, if they are healthy, they will just do their job without your awareness.
Your lungs are an essential part of your body! Their most important job is to exchange the waste gases that your body produces with the oxygen your body needs in order to survive. They are made up of spongy, elastic tissue that moves when driven by muscular contractions. When you inhale, the diaphragm (a large muscle below your lungs) and intercostal muscles (the muscles between your ribs) contract and expand the chest cavity. This expansion lowers the pressure in the chest cavity. This pressure is lower than the outside air pressure, which means that air will flow into your lungs and inflate them (air moves from high pressure to low pressure). When you exhale, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles relax and the chest cavity gets smaller. This causes the pressure in the chest cavity to increase above the outside air pressure and air flows out! This happens every single time you take a breath!
There are many things that you can avoid in order to ensure you have good lung health. One of the most well known causes of unhealthy lungs is smoking. Smoking can have negative effects on lungs in many different ways.
• Smoking destroys the tiny hairs, called cilia, which line the upper airways and protect against infection. In normal lungs, there is a thin layer of mucous and thousands of cilia lining the insides of the breathing tubes. The mucous traps the dirt and pollution that is breathed in, and the cilia move together to push that dirt-filled mucous out. This results in coughing, swallowing or spitting up the mucous, which effectively removes the dirt from the lungs. Without this natural system, the dirt does not get removed, which can lead to many ailments, including chest infections, cancer and chronic coughing.
• Smoking permanently damages the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The alveoli are located at the tips of your lungs and act like tiny, stretchy balloons. When you breathe in, the alveoli help to absorb oxygen into your body, and when you breathe out, the alveoli help you get rid of the carbon dioxide. Smoking damages the alveoli causing them to become less stretchy. This can make it harder for your lungs to get the oxygen you need and harder to rid your body of carbon dioxide. This can lead to feeling short of breath and tired and other ailments such as heart disease (because your heart has to pump harder to deliver your body the oxygen it needs).
It is never too late to quit smoking! According to the Lung Association, within one year of quitting smoking your risk of dying of a heart attack drops by half! So, next time you take a breath, remember the amazing, complex organs that are working to keep you alive...and just BREATHE!