Healthy lungs are critical to each member's ability to enjoy a long, active life. Knowing how to improve lung health helps stave off a host of harmful and expensive health issues, such as asthma, lung cancer and pneumonia.
According to the American Lung Association (ALA), 11 million workers annually are exposed to allergens and irritants that cause asthmatic symptoms in the workplace, and 226,000 people are hospitalized with the flu.
In fields such as construction and manufacturing, workers on the job may be exposed to exhaust from vehicles, particle pollution, gasses, fumes and vapors. Those in the food industry, property services or warehouses are often subject to airborne irritants like dust, mold and chemicals in cleaning supplies.
This irritant exposure can also impact members' work: Per the ALA, over 10 million employees miss work because of asthma, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the health effects of cigarette smoking alone add up to over $300 billion in health care costs and productivity losses.
Union leaders can do their part to promote lung health through member education. Here are five practices to share with your members to help them breathe easy.
1. Eat Right
A balanced diet and weight management both support better breathing. Encourage healthy eating choices like complex carbs when possible, such as the ones in fresh fruits, veggies and bread rich in whole grains. Simple carbs like candy, cookies and soft drinks are better in limited quantities.
Getting a full spectrum of vitamins is also important. Vitamin D, for example, can help reduce airway inflammation. What's more, a 2018 study from the journal Respirology reported that higher levels of Vitamin D are linked to higher levels of lung function, and according to a review published in Respiratory Research, several other vitamins may also improve lung health.
2. Quit Smoking
Per the World Health Organization, tobacco kills at least 8 million people each year by way of lung cancer, asthma or lung disease. Members who smoke should seriously consider quitting the habit, and anyone exposed to secondhand smoke should reduce exposure.
Suggest that members focus on cardio workouts and upper-body training, such as weight training to strengthen the back muscles, the chest and shoulders. These exercises make it easier to maintain a good posture, which allows the lungs to breathe more deeply. Cycling classes, running, and walking up stairs help increase lung capacity.
4. Do Breathing Exercises
The body resorts to using muscles in the chest, neck and back to breathe when the diaphragm isn't working at full capacity. In turn, oxygen intake goes down.
Breathing exercises can help members breathe fully and deeply. For example, try breathing deeply through the nose while keeping one hand on the stomach. Watch the hand's rise and fall, breathing out through the mouth. Alternatively, inhale deeply and hold in the breath for 10 seconds before exhaling. Even singing can help improve lung capacity.
5. Improve Air Quality at Home
It's difficult to control the air quality outside, but members can take steps to improve the air indoors. Investing in a good air purifier or household plants that can help clean the air at home. For homes with pets, vacuuming carpeted areas regularly keeps spaces free of dander and fur.
By doing your part in advocating for ways to improve lung health and educating members on how to do so, you can help provide avenues to healthier, happier lives.
Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer who has written for both Fortune 500 companies and fintech startups. In a former life, she worked in the communications department of an entertainment labor union. Now a full-time freelancer, she enjoys helping fellow freelancers build a successful business.