A guide to breath­ing freely

Business World - - HEALTH+GUIDE - Bjorn Biel M. Bel­tran

AS A per­son goes through life healthy and un­bur­dened, he tends to take the tiny de­tails of liv­ing for granted. How he can see and per­ceive the world clearly and vividly, how eas­ily he can walk from place to place or up and down the stairs, how plea­sur­ably he can eat any­thing with­out worry. Un­til the pas­sage of time takes its toll and age catches up with him, he will most likely over­look his sim­ple for­tune of be­ing able to breathe prop­erly.

Breath­ing is per­haps the sin­gle most im­por­tant ac­tion hu­man be­ings do daily. Eat­ing, drink­ing, or sleep­ing all fall un­der it as it would be lit­er­ally im­pos­si­ble for a nor­mal per­son to go five min­utes with­out air. Tak­ing care of the lungs, the or­gans re­spon­si­ble for this vi­tal func­tion, is nec­es­sary for a long and healthy life.

Ac­cord­ing to data gath­ered by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, four out of the top 10 causes of death around the world are due to res­pi­ra­tory and pul­monary prob­lems. Th­ese 10 causes ac­count for more than half (54%) of the 56.4 mil­lion deaths world­wide in 2015, and lung prob­lems ac­count for a ma­jor part of them.

“Chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease claimed 3.2 mil­lion lives in 2015, while lung can­cer (along with tra­chea and bronchus can­cers) caused 1.7 mil­lion deaths,” the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ported on its web­site.

“Lower res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions re­mained the most deadly com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease, caus­ing 3.2 mil­lion deaths world­wide in 2015. [Mean­while] tu­ber­cu­lo­sis killed fewer peo­ple dur­ing the same pe­riod, but is still among the top 10 causes with a death toll of 1.4 mil­lion,” the re­port added.

So how does one take care of his or her lungs? Like any part of the hu­man body, keep­ing one’s lungs healthy means choos­ing and main­tain­ing healthy life­style choices. The lungs in par­tic­u­lar al­ready have a nat­u­ral de­fense sys­tem de­signed to pro­tect it­self from dirt and un­wanted in­vaders, so all that’s left would be to keep it in good shape.

The Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion (ALA) sug­gests a num­ber of ways one might do this, but per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant method of re­duc­ing the risk of lung dis­eases is the es­chewal of smok­ing.

“Cig­a­rette smok­ing is the ma­jor cause of lung can­cer and chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease (COPD), which in­cludes chronic bron­chi­tis and em­phy­sema,” the ALA said on its web­site.

“Cig­a­rette smoke can nar­row the air pas­sages and make breath­ing more dif­fi­cult. It causes chronic in­flam­ma­tion, or swelling in the lung, which can lead to chronic bron­chi­tis. Over time cig­a­rette smoke de­stroys lung tis­sue, and may trig­ger changes that grow into can­cer. If you smoke, it’s never too late to ben­e­fit from quit­ting,” it added.

In­di­vid­u­als who smoke reg­u­larly and over a long pe­riod of time have a greater risk of lung can­cer and COPD, which in­cludes em­phy­sema and chronic bron­chi­tis. Even sec­ond­hand smoke, which is much harder to avoid, is harm­ful too.

Con­tact with air pol­lu­tion, which can be found in­doors as well as out­doors, also need to be min­i­mized. Chem­i­cal pol­lu­tants, ozone, and radon can cause and worsen lung dis­ease. Sources of th­ese harm­ful par­tic­u­lates range from con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als and wood-burn­ing stoves to even air fresh­en­ers, pet dan­der and can­dles.

The United States En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, which keeps up- to- date in­for­ma­tion on air qual­ity in the US, rec­om­mends a three- pronged ap­proach: Elim­i­nate pol­lu­tion sources, im­prove in­door ven­ti­la­tion, and use air clean­ers to re­move par­tic­u­late mat­ter.

Harm­ful par­ti­cles or gases can even be found in sim­ple home ac­tiv­i­ties like clean­ing. Clean­ing prod­ucts can con­tain chem­i­cals like volatile or­ganic com­pounds, am­mo­nia, and bleach, and one must en­sure that he is well-pro­tected when us­ing such prod­ucts. Al­ways work in a well-ven­ti­lated area, and use a dust mask for safe clean­ing habits.


Of course, in an en­vi­ron­ment de­void of much pol­lu­tion keep­ing one’s phys­i­cal fit­ness be­comes a triv­ial thing. Peo­ple who live in the cities, how­ever, do not have much choice. Smoke and pol­lu­tion are al­most ev­ery­where, and it would be noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle to avoid them com­pletely. In th­ese con­di­tions, build­ing a ro­bust de­fense sys­tem would be es­sen­tial in keep­ing one’s lungs healthy.

Res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions, even com­mon ones such as cold and flu, can some­times be­come se­ri­ous if not treated prop­erly, and es­pe­cially so if cou­pled with other lung prob­lems. Pro­tec­tion and pre­ven­tion are the key against com­mon threats. Get­ting the flu shots in time for flu sea­son, or the pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine for the el­derly can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween go­ing dis­ease-free and suc­cumb­ing to ill­ness.

Fur­ther steps can be taken to avoid sim­i­lar in­fec­tions, such as fre­quent hand-wash­ing, avoid­ing crowds dur­ing flu sea­son, get­ting plenty of rest, eat­ing well and avoid­ing too much stress. Ex­er­cise, es­pe­cially aer­o­bic ex­er­cises, will help main­tain car­diores­pi­ra­tory fit­ness.

“Aer­o­bic ex­er­cise helps im­prove your lung ca­pac­ity. Spe­cific breath­ing ex­er­cises can also help im­prove your lung func­tion. Ex­er­cise and breath­ing tech­niques are also great for im­prov­ing your mood and help­ing you re­lax,” the ALA said.


Due to the com­mon na­ture of colds and coughs, it can some­times be hard to know when an ill­ness is se­ri­ous enough to war­rant a visit to the doc­tor. Filipinos are stub­born at this. Our fru­gal na­ture comes at the ex­pense of our own well-be­ing, with many Filipinos re­fus­ing to go to a hos­pi­tal un­less their ill­ness is life-threat­en­ing. But health should al­ways come first in such sit­u­a­tions, and it is ab­so­lutely im­per­a­tive that dis­eases be treated as soon as pos­si­ble, for them not to get worse.

“Reg­u­lar check-ups help pre­vent dis­eases, even when you are feel­ing well. This is es­pe­cially true for lung dis­ease, which some­times goes un­de­tected un­til it is se­ri­ous,” the ALA said.

If your coughs last for more than a few weeks to a month, or if you have a hard time breath­ing with lit­tle or no phys­i­cal ex­er­tion, you should see a doc­tor. More glar­ing symp­toms like wheez­ing, cough­ing up blood or cough­ing up phlegm for more than a month need to be ex­am­ined at a hos­pi­tal as soon as pos­si­ble.

Easy it may be to over­look, breath­ing is one the most fun­da­men­tal func­tions of the hu­man body. Like the heart­beat, each breath punc­tu­ates each moment of our lives, push­ing our bod­ies to go on liv­ing. That one is able to breathe freely and with­out prob­lems is a bless­ing in it­self, a bless­ing that many do not have. -

“Lower res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions re­mained the most deadly com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease, caus­ing 3.2 mil­lion deaths world­wide in 2015. [Mean­while] tu­ber­cu­lo­sis killed fewer peo­ple dur­ing the same pe­riod, but is still among the top 10 causes with a death toll of 1.4 mil­lion.”

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