Much of the focus on successful aging is placed on a heart-smart lifestyle. Because heart disease claims almost 655,000 lives in the United States each year, it’s easy to understand why. But your heart isn’t the only organ that needs special attention as you grow older. Lung health can also impact how long and well you live.

With age, the lungs typically become weaker and less flexible. But lifestyle can play a role in how much change the lungs will undergo.

Get the Facts about Lung Disease

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, lung disease is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. An estimated 235,000 Americans lose their lives to lung-related illnesses every year. A number of conditions are categorized as lung diseases, including lung cancer, asthma, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis.

While not all lung diseases are preventable, your lifestyle choices can affect many of these. The following tips can help protect lung health as you grow older:

  • Don’t smoke tobacco: Smoking is a major contributor to lung disease. While most people know the risks, kicking the habit can be tough. If you want to stop but haven’t been able to, schedule an appointment with your physician. There are newer medications and smoking cessation programs that might work for you, but some require a prescription.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke: You don’t have to be a smoker for your health to be negatively impacted by cigarette smoke. Living with a smoker or being otherwise exposed on a regular basis can be almost as dangerous. Research shows people exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for respiratory infections, asthma, and lung cancer. Unfortunately, secondhand smoke accounts for 41,000 deaths in this country every year.
  • Monitor air quality: Breathing harsh chemicals can also weaken the lungs. Protect yourself by avoiding household cleaners, lawn care products, and paints that contain strong chemicals. Opt for items with natural ingredients whenever possible. When you can’t avoid exposure, wear a mask or respirator.
  • Protect against infections: The risk for infections like the flu and pneumonia, which can be deadly for seniors, can decrease with the help of vaccines. Getting an annual flu shot in the fall is essential. As is speaking with your doctor for advice about pneumonia vaccines.
  • Exercise regularly: One of the best ways to keep your lungs healthy is routine exercise. Walking, cycling, swimming, chair yoga, and low-impact aerobic activities all build stronger lungs.

Exercise and Lung Health for Seniors

In general, experts suggest older adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 days a week. The key is to find fitness activities you enjoy and alternate them so you don’t become bored. If you’ve been sedentary for a while, a few forms of aerobic exercise to discuss with your primary care physician include:

  • Taking walks or hikes outdoors
  • Walking indoors on a treadmill
  • Cycling on a bicycle or recumbent bike
  • Swimming or taking a swim aerobics class

If you or your senior loved one has a mobility impairment or balance problem, exercises that can be performed from a seated position include:

Whatever form of fitness you choose, it should make your heart and lungs work hard. That allows them to process oxygen more efficiently.

As is true of any new form of exercise, check with your primary care physician before starting.

Live Well at Heritage Senior Communities

At Heritage, we utilize a unique Wellness Model that encourages residents to stay physically, mentally, and socially engaged. Learn more by calling the Heritage community nearest you today!