Friday, August 24

You can't grow your lungs

When we're little kids, we're told to eat all our vegetables so we'll grow up to be big and strong. This coercion is about vitamins (and not eating junk food).

When we exercise regularly, our muscles have potential to grow in size and strength, and specialized muscles like our hearts have the potential to do this too. For many people, these are the reasons they exercise (besides the perk of looking good too).

But our lungs? They will be one size for your whole life. No matter how much you exercise and no matter how many carrots you eat, they will not grow.

Because I've been an endurance athlete for most of my life, my heart, like any muscle, has gotten stronger through regular sweat sessions. My left ventricle, the piston that pushes blood through my body, is larger than an untrained female's, so it can distribute a steady stream of blood over long physical efforts. My lungs, however, will never change size. Their job is to suck oxygen from the air; they're programmed to keep up with my body's O2 demand and with how fast my heart shuttles the oxygen-spiked blood to my muscles.- Dimity McDowell, Women's Health, This is your body on exercise

(And your left lung is smaller than your right lung so your heart has some living space inside your chest.) Moreover,for those of us with asthma, when we have asthma symptoms, it's because our airways are inflamed. When they're inflamed, they constrict, usually because of irritation of some kind (something in the air like pollution, pollen, perfumes, fumes, or dust; or cold or dry air). Swelling increases, and sometimes mucus production increases, causing the asthma symptoms to worsen. You are now having an asthma attack. Your lungs feel smaller (they're not), but the tubes to get air to your lungs are.

You can strengthen your breathing muscles, though. Cardiovascular activity can help ease asthma symptoms over time. That's why I run. :-)

You only get one set of lungs. Better take care of them!

*Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor or a nurse or anything like that. I'm writing this as a way to communicate about asthma, what it's like to be asthmatic, and ways that I deal with my asthma. I work with my doctors to make sure that my treatment and activity level are right for me. You should too.*

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