For the last day of Heart Health Month, an article caught my attention about the relationship between lung capacity and heart failure. I was preparing a different post for today but had to give it up for the more recent finding. I think triglycerides can wait :).
The study from the University of North Carolina published in the European Journal of Heart Failure showed a link between low lung capacity and the development of heart failure. The researchers who studied 16,000 people over the course of 15 years concluded that reduced lung function and pulmonary diseases such chronic obstructive pulmonary disease known as COPD increase the risk of heart failure. Common causes of COPD include cigarette smoking (pipe, cigar, hookah and passive exposure to cigarettes included), occupational dust and chemicals, air pollution and genetic factors.
So what can we do to increase our lung capacity and hence protect our heart?
- It’s a no-brainer that you should stop smoking if you do. Try to avoid as well second-hand smoking.
- Exercise regularly to improve your cardio-respiratory function. Exercise includes walking, running, biking, swimming and other cardio workouts.
- Practice deep breathing daily. Start inhaling slowly through your nose and begin by filling your upper chest with air, then feel your rib cage expanding and feel your diaphragm descending allowing your belly to gently swell. Pause for a second then start exhaling by allowing the diaphragm to release back. Engage slightly your abdominal muscles as your breath is flowing out through your nose. Pause for a second and then repeat. Try to make your exhalations longer by 1 or 2 seconds for a deeper relaxation. Start with five minutes and slowly increase your time to fifteen or thirty minutes.
- Enjoy a healthy diet. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2002 showed that a diet rich in magnesium and potassium can help improve lung function in children. Children who have lower lung function are more susceptible to chronic respiratory problems as adults. Magnesium which tends to relax muscles in the airways is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, in nuts, seeds and whole grains. It is also found in meats and milk. Potassium can be found in high amounts in fruits and vegetables. Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may increase lung capacity by decreasing inflammation in the lung, hence lowering the risk of chronic lung disease. In case you suffer from asthma or COPD (or other obstructive airways disorder such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis), it is imperative to eat six small meals instead of 3 large ones to avoid having a distented stomach that will interfere with breathing by pushing on the diaphragm. It is also a good idea to eat and chew slowly to avoid shortness of breath and to drink beverages at the end of the meal to avoid early satiety.
- Take a deep breath of fresh air. Easier said than done if we live in highly-congested and polluted cities, but a mountain hike or a sea walk every now and then may do the trick.
So today jump for leap year, for your lungs and for your heart!
References: The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, NutraIngredients, European Journal of Heart Failure