Why You Need More than Exercise to Strengthen Your Lungs

Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. & Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Supporting the strength and health of your Lungs during the Fall season goes beyond simply staying in shape with exercise.

While practices that focus on breathing, including Yoga and Qi Gong, are essential, there are other factors that are also important to support your Lungs and fortify your immune system throughout this season.


Foods to Support Your Lung Health

Since dryness is the predominant factor during Autumn, it’s essential to stay hydrated during this time of the year. And while drinking water is important, it’s also essential to be mindful of your diet, focusing on eating more moistening foods and avoiding foods that can increase dryness in your body.

In terms of grains, rice, millet and oats are the moistening grains whereas wheat, quinoa and buckwheat are more drying and should be avoided if you tend to feel more dry during this time. You may experience dryness most commonly in your mouth, lips, skin, nails, and hair.

Fruits are also very hydrating but should be consumed in moderation as the sweet nature of fruit can create phlegm and congest the Lungs. Citrus for example in the form of orange juice is overly concentrated in sugar and can cause phlegm or mucus to develop, weakening your Lung's Qi.

Compact fruits such as pears, apples, Asian pears, and persimmons are most beneficial to nourish your Lungs. These fruits moisten the Lungs’ Yin to stop a dry cough and increase hydration during the dry season. In fact, drinking a little pear juice before going to bed can help you fall asleep since the Lungs must be nourished to anchor the Wei Qi, or defensive Qi, of the body, to help you fall asleep.

Pears and other compact fruits help nourish your Lung Yin.

Pears and other compact fruits help nourish your Lung Yin.

We often recommend preparing an apple-pear stew before bedtime to nourish the Lungs, which helps clear your throat, reduce coughing and support you to fall asleep.

All you have to do is cut up an apple and a pear and place covered in a small pot on low heat. No water is necessary. The fruit will cook in its own juice. You can also add some cardamon, which helps reduce phlegm, and some cinnamon, which is warming, for a healthy evening treat!

Dairy is another food type that’s hydrating for the lungs. However, the excessively hydrating properties of dairy products give them the tendency to create dampness in the form of mucous, which can stress the Lungs and cause sinus and even ear congestion. So be cautious with dairy foods such as yogurt, cheese or kefir if you tend to have sinus problems.

In Chinese Medicine, dampness relates to excessive fluid congestion and in terms of Western medicine, excessive dampness is equivalent to a fungal condition. Fungus feeds on sugar so if you have chronic sinus congestion or tend to have "sinus drip" it's important to focus on drying up this damp terrain by avoiding damp foods such as dairy as well as foods with high sugar content, including fruit.

How Foods Are Cooked Matters

Food preparation is also critical in how food is processed in your body. For example, steamed foods and soups are more hydrating and moistening whereas barbecued, baked and fried foods are more drying.

Baked goods and toasted nuts and cereals are in general very drying to the body. In contrast, soups and stews hydrate the Stomach and Lungs. You may notice that your lips and skin are less dry if you consume more of these liquid-based foods during the Fall.

Conclusion

What you eat matters for your health, and paying attention to the prominent factors during each season is essential to make proper dietary adjustments. In addition, remember to keep up with your exercise (including Yoga to strengthen your lungs) and read our other Fall tips to support your immune health so you can fully enjoy this beautiful season.