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We still have a long way to go when it comes to protecting our air and our lungs from pollution, and our choices do matter.

We can support air-quality regulations, elect public servants who stand on behalf of these laws, and hold elected officials accountable. We can drive less, use less electricity, and stop idling our cars when waiting to pick up our kids at school. Small changes can make a measurable difference in the air we breathe. The success of the Clean Air Act shows that many of them already have.

In the meantime, functional- and integrative-healthcare providers suggest putting our lungs on their own elimination diet to help reduce inflammation and build resilience. Just like the gut, lungs will be healthy or not depending on what they’re fed. Our experts recommend these strategies.

  1. Get the support you need to quit smoking. And try to resist the temptation to take up vaping instead. It may do less immediate harm than smoking, but a recent study found that the chemicals in vaping fluid may damage immune cells in the lungs.
  2. Use a home air purifier. A basic HEPA filter will improve indoor air quality, says Rountree.
  3. Cook with stainless-steel and cast-iron pans. Avoid pans with nonstick coatings: Their polymer surfaces break down and release multiple toxic particulates.
  4. Use your stovetop fan. It reduces airborne particulates from cooking.
  5. Avoid synthetic air fresheners at all costs, Rountree says. In addition to irritating the lungs, nearly all synthetic fragrances contain phthalates, a known hormone disruptor. Unless you’re sensitive to essential oils, try adding a few drops to water in a stainless-steel spray bottle. Shake it well, then mist with that.
  6. Ditch the dryer sheets. Their chemicals are heated, then vented into the air.
  7. Simplify your cleaning products. Commercial cleaners (even those marketed as “natural”) are often “significant irritants” to the lungs, says integrative physician Leo Galland, MD, author of The Allergy Solution. Homemade solutions using vinegar, water, and baking soda will handle most household tasks with minimal fumes.
  8. Cultivate as many plants in your home as possible. Though some research suggests you’d have to maintain a small jungle to produce a measurable difference in air quality, Rountree still recommends growing as many plants as you can to help clean the air.
  9. Dust. It’s an odious chore, but Galland notes that many airborne chemicals “hitchhike” into the home on dust particles. “Good dust control really helps to diminish exposure,” he says.
  10. Monitor mold. It can be a significant hidden contributor to harmful indoor-air particulates, so stay on top of wet basements and shower walls.
  11. Be mindful of formaldehyde. Many factory-made items, from new clothing to laminate flooring, are treated with formaldehyde. This is a significant source of indoor-air pollution, says Galland. Buy secondhand when you can, and use real hardwood or no-VOC carpeting when replacing flooring.
  12. Open the windows. When it comes to air quality, circulation is better than stagnation. Unless the outdoor air is severely compromised, as when there’s a nearby wildfire or an air-quality alert, open the windows and welcome the breeze. Buildings that don’t “breathe” (such as those whose windows don’t open or that are built with airtight materials) may trap or produce mold and other toxicants, and there’s a greater risk of volatile organic chemicals from building materials concentrating in the air.
  13. Exercise indoors on bad-air-quality days to limit your exposure to airborne particulates.
  14. Consider wearing a mask if your lungs are vulnerable; Galland recommends an N95 respirator. “These are really good for particles,” he says, and they can help block viruses. They’re especially useful if you have severe allergies or work in a healthcare setting.

This originally appeared as “Take a Deep Breath” in the October 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

Illustration by: Sarah Jones

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