Smoking is tough on your entire body, but it’s especially hard on your poor lungs. Many people who quit smoking notice pain in their lungs – even after you quit, your lungs are still damaged, so this pain is normal. While carbon monoxide levels in your body return to normal in the first twelve hours after you quit smoking, it can take the cilia – fine hairlike organelles on the interior of your lungs that sweep out debris and pollutants – up to nine months to properly heal.
That’s why when you quit smoking, one of the recommendations is to perform a lung cleanse – getting your lungs used to life without a thick layer of tar and constant smoke.
Create a soothing air environment
One of the best things you can do after you quit smoking is to create a clean air environment around you, and avoid pollutants that might irritate your lungs.
To do this you can:
Keep your window open and fresh air circulating in your home or office (only if you aren’t allergic to pollen).
Avoid other smokers at all costs, including areas where people have recently been smoking.
Use house plants like peace lilies, aloe vera, snake plants, weeping figs, Ivy, palm trees, rubber trees, or spider plants to help clean the air in your home.
Make sure to choose plants that don’t emit pollen, spores or particles that might irritate your lungs.
Keep your house clean and use natural detergents and cleaners in order to keep dust and toxins out of your lungs.
Avoid certain foods
It may seem weird that you’d want to avoid certain foods in order to keep your lungs healthy, but inside your body, your respiratory and digestive systems are closely related. Certain foods produce a lot of mucus, which your lungs have to work to clean out. Since your lungs are already working overtime to clean up the tar left from your smoking, adding to their load will only make the pain worse.
Here are some common foods to avoid:
Dairy products, including milk, cheese, butter, cream, and yoghurt.
Caffeine, which dehydrates you so your body produces excess mucus. Drink lots of water instead.
Sugary foods, such as candy, sweets, soft drinks, cakes, and ice cream.
Processed foods: This includes meats like jerky, salami, bacon, and hot dogs, as well as fast food (loaded with sugar and often dairy), and meat substitute foods (mock-meats and cheeses).
Try these lung-cleansing foods instead
Instead of chowing down on a ton of dairy and takeaways, try some of the following foods, which will actually help your lungs with the healing process:
Pineapple: contains a compound called bromelain, which reduces inflammation and improves lung elasticity.
Citrus fruits and berries, chock full of antioxidants and vitamin C.
Radishes: I know they’re not the most appetising food, but radishes can help eliminate excess mucus, soothe a sore throat, and heal lung pain.
Honey: There is some evidence that honey may help remove mucus from the lungs.
Garlic, onions, ginger, and tumeric.
Leafy greens and herbs, such as celery, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, rosemary, and oregano.
One great way to train your lungs is to give them a gentle workout. This helps to get oxygen to your organs and improve your overall health. Exercise is also a great tool for other issues relating to quitting smoking, such as managing cravings.
You want to get at least 30 minutes 5 times a week of moderate aerobic exercise (swimming, walking, gardening), and 25 minutes three times a week of more intense exercise (weights, jogging, biking, playing sport), according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Try different forms of exercise and see what you enjoy. Outdoor sports are great as they encourage your lungs to breathe fresh, clean air.
Many ex-smokers also find yoga practice to be beneficial as it helps you to breathe deep and improve posture.
If you’re struggling with your smoking journey, the SmokeFree website provides a list of services (many of them free) across NZ you can access. You don’t have to do this alone!