The lungs make up one of the largest organs in the body and work as part of the respiratory system to bring fresh air into the body and expel the stale air.
Your lungs are in your chest and take up most of the room within the rib cage, but interestingly enough, they are not the same size. The left lung is slightly smaller than the right lung as room is needed for the heart, also on the left of your chest. The rib cage that protects the lungs is made up 12 sets of ribs which surround the internal organs within the rib cage. Below the lungs is the diaphragm that works the lungs and allows the inhalation and exhalation of air into and out of the body.
At the base of the windpipe there are two large tubes that connect to each lung. Once they reach each lung, these tubes branch into smaller tubes and they in turn branch off again, rather like a tree root until the last legs of the tubes are no thicker than a human hair. These tubes are called bronchi, hence the term, bronchitis which is a condition affecting the lungs.
Inhaling and Exhaling
You inhale without having to think about it, but inhaling involves many parts of the body working together. When you breath in, your rib cage expands and the diaphragm contracts which allows air to be drawn into the lungs. The air passes down your windpipe and is cleaned by small hairs called cilia which remove dirt etc. so that it doesn’t enter the lungs. This air then passes through all the bronchi and delivers the oxygen rich air to the alveoli, which remove the oxygen from the air and pass it into the blood stream.
The oxygen then joins the red blood cells that carry the blood to the heart which feeds the rest of the body. Exhaling is just the reverse. The diaphragm moves up and expels air from the lungs. The alveoli also remove carbon dioxide from the blood and pass it to the cilia, which is then exhaled when we breathe out.
Your lungs also allow you to make sounds, to talk, shout, laugh and all the other sounds you make. Above the windpipe is the voice box, or larynx, which contains two ridges, called vocal chords that open and close to make sounds. If the vocal chords are closed then they vibrate and a sound is made.
When we exercise, our bodies use up more oxygen than when we are resting and as the oxygen comes from the lungs; they then have to work harder to deliver that oxygen to the heart when we stress our bodies through exercise.
We all know the feeling of being out of breath, which results from the body using more oxygen than the lungs can deliver, hence we get tired. However, through regular exercise, our lungs become more capable of working harder and can in turn deliver more oxygen to the heart, and hence we get fitter.
To look after your lungs, you should firstly not smoke as smoke damages the cilia so the air reaching the lungs is no longer clean. The alveoli also get damaged and are less able extract the oxygen from the air and nice clean healthy cells that line the inside of the lungs become cancer cells. Worst of all, damaged lungs cannot be repaired.
Look after your lungs and they will look after you!