Regular exercise provides us with many benefits, including balancing our mood, improving our sleep, and preventing chronic disease, even seemingly unrelated conditions like Alzheimer’s. And what better way to exercise than in the great outdoors?
However, we are faced with a difficult situation living in Beijing. There are many times when we may not feel comfortable exercising outdoors because of the high pollution index. Yet exercise helps improve the ability of our lungs to function. This is critical, because exposure to pollution can impact our lung function in a negative way, and unfortunately for children, the effects can be permanent. But don’t despair; here are a few natural solutions to counteract the effects of pollution on our lungs.
The food we eat is the cornerstone of our health. Through our diet, we can strengthen our lungs and offset the damage caused by airborne toxins. Having plenty of fruits and veggies is key. A daily total of 7-10 servings is optimal. The benefits are greatly enhanced when fresh produce is eaten raw. Look for antioxidant-rich foods like carrots and sweet potatoes (which are filled with beta-carotene), as well as kiwis and clementines, (which are bursting with vitamin C). Nuts and seeds, like sunflower seeds and almonds, are high in vitamin E, which is a great lung protector. In general, plants contain a long list of natural compounds called phytonutrients. These have countless health benefits, including protecting our body from harmful substances such as pollution.
My advice is to eat a rainbow. Check your plate: the more colorful the fruits and veggies, the better! Green broccoli, yellow peppers, purple cabbage, red tomatoes: the possibilities are endless. Another set of important players when it comes to protecting our lungs are the Omega 3 oils, which can be found in fish, flax seeds and walnuts. They contain natural anti-inflammatories that work against the damage caused by pollution.
Interestingly, a study published in the European Respiratory Journal has found that breastfeeding can help increase lung function in children, and the effects remain well into their late teens. If you’re able to breastfeed your baby, do so exclusively for the first six months and for as long as possible after that. Breastfed babies and toddlers also receive extra protection against respiratory infections.
There are also breathing exercises that can strengthen our lungs. Deep abdominal breathing can help to increase our lung capacity. Exercising in water can do the same, as can playing a wind instrument. Studies with kids have been done using harmonicas, and it works; the key here is regular practice.
In short, make the most of the blue sky days, which promise to be more plentiful in spring. Get out, strengthen your lungs and have some fun while you’re at it!
photo by Flickr user jesussanz