So, you quit smoking—congratulations! Our bodies have a remarkable ability to heal themselves, even in the face of long-term abuse like smoking. In fact, the healing process begins within hours of having your last cigarette.
But you want to give your lungs all the help they can get, right? The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do, especially if you have not developed a condition such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
What your body takes care of
Healthline, and other sources, outline the improvements that take place in the lungs once they are no longer being filled with smoke.
After 72 hours the bronchial tubes start to relax and inflammation in the airways decreases. Lung function also begins to improve which in turn makes breathing a little easier. After about a month the cilia (tiny, hair-like structures in the lungs that help to get rid of foreign matter and mucus) start to repair and regrow so they can do their job again. Lung capacity can increase by as much as 30% during this period.
1 year after quitting the restored cilia continue to clear the lungs and they become more resistant to infections. After 5 years it is believed that pre-cancerous lung cells have been replaced with healthy cells. This means that an ex-smoker’s chances of getting lung cancer have dropped significantly.
At the magical 10 year mark an ex-smoker has almost the same chance of dying from cancer as a non-smoker. The chance of lung cancer has decreased by 50% and there is far less risk of esophageal, throat, or mouth cancers.
What you can do to help your lungs heal
Organizations such as Livestrong offer a wealth of advice in terms of what we can do to help our lungs heal once we have quit smoking.
While your lungs are still repairing, especially while the cilia are still damaged and not functioning properly, eating foods that boost the immune system and reduce inflammation will help to keep the lungs safe from infection.
Various sources suggest a handful of cranberries and a mug of ginger tea each day goes a long way to boosting the immune system and giving your lungs time to get stronger. Fresh fruit and vegetables (three to four servings daily) are recommended for everybody but ex-smokers really benefit for the vitamins and minerals fruit and vegetables provide.
Green apples in particular are believed to be good for lung function generally and are thought to reduce the chances of developing lung cancer. Other highly beneficial food stuffs are pineapples, horseradish, rosemary, avocados, thyme, and cayenne. All of these are freely available (although some are seasonal) and can be easily incorporated into a diet.
Several types of exercise are beneficial in terms of improving lung strength and function. However, it’s real important to speak to your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have been a long-term smoker.
Aerobic and cardiovascular exercise is also very valuable. It is recommended that you cycle, run, work out at a gym, or speed walk several times a week. Aerobic and cardiovascular exercise increases the demand for oxygen and the lungs expand to take in more air. This strengthens the respiratory system and eventually increases overall lung capacity. Swimming is ideal because it requires greater lung capacity than any other type of cardiovascular exercise.
For those who want something a little less energetic, yoga is another option as it requires focused breathing which increases lung capacity by exercising the diaphragm muscles that cause the lungs to expand. A second more sedate option is the musical route: sing or take up a wind or brass musical instrument such as a flute, oboe, or saxophone.
Vitamins and supplements
The vitamins thought to help with repairing lungs are:
- Vitamin C: found in citrus fruits, broccoli and bell peppers
- Vitamin E: found in wheat germ, mustard greens, tomatoes and almonds
- Vitamin B-6
Studies seem to indicate that Vitamin A / beta-carotene actually increases the risk for lung cancer!
Deep breathing and breathing exercises
A smoker’s lungs have been starved of fresh air so you need to make up for that. Get into the fresh, clean air as much as possible (or as close to clean as your environment allows!). Breathing exercises help to improve lung function but have the useful additional benefits of helping reduce stress and help handle any cravings that may be lingering.
Deep breathing begins with noticing your breathing. You then have to breathe in deeply so that your belly expands as your lungs fill. Repeating this daily strengthens the lungs and diaphragm. Holding one’s breath for 3 seconds between the in and the out breath can also be beneficial.
Avoid air-borne irritants and allergens
Yes, this is easier said than done. However, one can avoid dusty, smoke-filled environments. You can also avoid being around plants that are producing pollens and using sprays and aerosols in your home. All of this helps the still-vulnerable and healing lungs to recover.