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"And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven, And the evening and the morning were the second day." Genesis 1:6-8.
Our atmosphere components
The "Heaven" mentioned here as being created by God on the second day refers to our atmospheric heaven. It includes the air we breathe, and upon which life on earth depends. A 12-mile-thick layer wrapped around our planet, the atmosphere consists of about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% argon, helium, carbon dioxide, and other gases. It also harbors a fair amount of water vapor and an unwarranted amount of pollution. As this mixture is inhaled into the lungs, about a fifth of the oxygen is retained while the rest is exhaled along with carbon dioxide and water vapor.
The human lung
The inside of the lung resembles a sponge. All of these tiny pockets (about 300 million) provide over seventy square yards of surface area for the exchange of gases in and out of the blood stream. An adult breathes about 16 times per minute, taking in about one pint of air per breath. This intake adds up to about 2,000 gallons of air per day. During normal breathing this air travels at about 50 miles per hour, but during a sneeze or cough it can reach speeds of 750 miles per hour. The maximum amount of air a person can inhale and exhale in one breath is called the vital capacity. A good vital capacity is related to a greater life expectancy. Several factors can affect a person's vital capacity: smoking, air pollution, posture, exercise, obesity, and shallow breathing.
Dangers of tobacco smoke pollution
For the person who smokes, the dangers are listed on the cigarette packages themselves. Lung cancer, emphysema, and carbon monoxide poisoning are among them. With every puff of smoke the air passageways narrow, making it more difficult to breathe. The cilia are paralyzed, thus preventing them from doing their job of cleansing the lungs. Mucus-clogged and irritated air passageways are ripe for emphysema and bronchitis. Carbon monoxide reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. Nicotine constricts the blood vessels, elevates the blood pressure and heart rate, and irritates the heart itself. In pregnant women these poisons cross the placenta and harm the fetus. Cancer-producing tars blacken the lungs. Marijuana smoke has many of the same health-damaging effects, plus some that are unique. Its active ingredient, THC, stays in the body longer than any other drug. With continued use it builds up in the fatty tissues, especially in the brain and in the gonads.
Cigarette smoke is also one of the main indoor-air pollutants. Those regularly exposed to second-hand smoke over an extended period of time are put at a significant risk for developing the same diseases and sharing some of the same physical impairments as the smoker. Small children, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, and those with respiratory or heart diseases are the most vulnerable, and may not even be able to tolerate minimal exposure. These persons are also the ones most likely to be affected by other types of indoor pollution.
Sources of indoor pollution
With the awareness of the energy crisis, one of the adaptations in society was to "weatherize" homes. Tighter living quarters decrease the exchange rate between inside and outside air. Weatherizing is good for keeping the heat in, but it also keeps in polluted air.
Natural-gas ovens, hair sprays, disinfectants, cleaning materials, wall paint, floor wax, cigarette smoke, radon, insecticides, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, particle-board construction, new furniture, and carpets are but a few of the sources of the fumes, gases, and particles that are emitted inside our homes. Solutions to the problem fall into three categories:
Indoor pollution solutions
The best solution is the removal or alteration of the problem at its source. For example: replace unvented kerosene heaters with electric heaters; quit smoking; et cetera.
The second solution is to increase the ventilation, which involves the sacrifice of some energy efficiency. One solution to this problem is to not overheat your home in the first place and to put on more clothing. One should keep several windows around the home open a few inches to ensure that a good supply of fresh air is in circulation and that the bad air can get out. Bacteria, molds, fungi, house mites, and other disease-producing organisms have a hard time multiplying in rooms that are kept well-aired and sunned.
The most comfortable temperature and relative humidity are 76-80° F and 40-50% respectively in summer and 72-76° F and 20-35% respectively in winter. Make sure your ceiling, walls, and floor are adequately insulated to minimize as much unnecessary heat loss as possible. Energy conservation need not be at the expense of one's health. Also to ensure a supply of fresh air while sleeping in bed, open the windows in another room and keep your bedroom door open. Thus the fresh night air can get in without your being in a draft and getting chilled. Of course, if it is warm outside you should keep the windows wide open. Homes that are located in "low spots" or are surrounded by dense vegetation may lack sunlight (driving up the heating requirements) and they do not get as much fresh-air circulation around them. Bedding and clothing should be aired out often. Clothesline drying is advantageous, as it freshens and further cleans the clothes and saves money.
The third move toward cleaner air indoors is the use of air-cleaning machines. There are various kinds—electrostatic, charcoal filtration, and negative ionization. Each may have its place in today's polluted world. Each has its advantages and disadvantages (electrostatic and negative ionization may emit some ozone.) Do your own research before you invest. Is the unit big enough to do the job? Is the expense warranted?
Symptions of indoor air pollution
How do you know if you have an air pollution problem inside your home? The symptoms may include headache; dizziness, cough, irritation of the eyes, nose, and/or throat, runny nose, difficulty in breathing, chest and/or abdominal pain, nausea, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea, and rashes. Only certain individuals may be affected. Since this list of symptoms contains some rather common complaints, a physician should be consulted.
Outdoor air pollution
But what if the outside air is polluted too? Unfortunately, this is a real problem in big cities and some other areas. About 150-200 million tons of pollutants are pumped into the air every year in the U.S. alone. Some types of air pollution come from evaporation, others from attrition (things grinding or wearing down). Most come from combustion. Heating units, power plants, incinerators, and industry are major sources of air pollution, but the number one cause is vehicular exhaust. Jets, airplanes, trains, buses, and automobiles have revolutionized transportation and our entire society. And they have ruined the air in many places in the process. Three out of five people in this country live in areas that do not meet the health standards set up by The Clean Air Act of 1970.
Symptoms caused by outdoor pollution
Effects of air pollution include eye irritation, respiratory symptoms and diseases, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, sore throat, chest pain, and nausea. The risks of major illness, all respiratory diseases, and colds go up. Susceptible persons may die during smog alerts. In addition to hurting people and animals, smog can kill plants and trees, and damage stone, metal, and fabrics.
Coping with outdoor air pollution
During a smog alert it is best to stay indoors, where there is about 50% less smog. Use air conditioners and recycle indoor air. Get more rest and sleep. Avoid cigarettes and unnecessary driving.
If you live in the city, the early morning hours usually have the cleanest air. It is also a good idea to take advantage of clear days by getting outdoors. The best way to escape air pollution is to live in the country. To give you an idea as to the potential differences in air quality, mid-Pacific ocean air contains about 15,000 particles per cubic inch of air as compared to 5,000,000 in big cities. In summary: "When the air is bad, try not to breathe it."
Negative ions of oxygen
There is something else that makes fresh air fresh besides oxygen and the absence of pollutants, and that is the type of ionization in the air. Ions are tiny, electrified particles of matter. Fresh air may contain between 2-3 million ions in each breath, which is 5-10 times more than stale air. (Oxygen usually carries a negative charge and carbon dioxide a positive charge.) Aerospace research and experience has suggested that air ionization is in itself a health factor apart from the oxygen content alone.
We do not yet understand how it works, but numerous studies have associated negative ions, specifically negatively ionized oxygen, with several health benefits. These include an increased rate and quality of growth in plants and in animals, dilation of the air passageways and improvement in the cleansing action of the lungs, heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolic rate. Mentally, one can experience a sense of exhilaration, or become more relaxed and mildly tranquilized. Hay fever and asthma symptoms may improve. Tumor growth was slowed in laboratory animals. Rats learned twice as fast. Positively charged air, on the other hand, produced the opposite responses and tends to be associated with headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue.
Where negative ions come from and where they go
Negative ions are lost as they adhere to walls, fabric materials, and air-conditioning ducts; tobacco smoke, smog and crowds of people tend to use them up, too. Radiation from space, air, rocks, and even some soils adds negative ions back into the air, as do sunshine, living green trees, and the breakup of water droplets, as occurs around waterfalls and the ocean surf.
Use your nose (breath correctly)
Now that we've cleared the air, there is one more thing to do, and that is to breathe properly. Breathe in and out through the nose as much as possible. The nasal mucosa moisturizes, filters, and warms the air as it is breathed in. As it is breathed out some heat and moisture is returned to the membranes to affect the next breath.
Oxygen is the most crucial element for our survival. We can survive weeks without food, days without water; but only minutes without oxygen. Yet because of shallow breathing habits we can deny ourselves optimal levels of oxygen for better health. Early signs of insufficient oxygen are impaired judgment and memory, dulling of intellect, and a tendency to impatience and irritability. Slow, deep abdominal breathing is the correct way to breathe. This type of breathing is better understood if it is demonstrated. Any respiratory therapist would be delighted to show you. Basically, it involves using the diaphragm to "suck" air into the lower portion of the lungs and the abdominal muscles to "push" it out. One way to check yourself is to lie down with a book on your stomach. Now breathe in such a way as to make the hook go up and down each time you inhale and exhale.
Factors that assist proper breathing
Good posture while sitting and standing is necessary for proper breathing. There are several exercises that can help your posture. Bend your elbows and try to touch your shoulder blades together in back. Lie on your back and try to flatten your lower back to the floor by tilting your pelvis. Pretend a string is attached to the top of your head, pulling your head slightly up and beck. This eases stress on your lungs and vocal cords. Hold your arms straight out to the sides and make little circles, then raise them straight up and reach for the sky.
Many people are forced to stoop or sit for much of the day. This usually makes for poor posture and causes many back problems. Maintaining good posture, taking stretch breaks often, and getting exercise whenever you can will help. A good aerobic exercise program combined with muscle toning and stretching exercises is necessary for good health besides being an aid to proper breathing and maintaining a strong set of lungs.
Tight clothing around the chest or abdomen makes proper breathing difficult, as does restrictive clothing that does not allow the free movement of the arms above the head.
Normal deep breathing aids digestion by massaging the abdominal organs. Blood is assisted in its return to the chest by the negative pressure that is developed with each deep breath. This pressure helps to reduce the chances of congestion headaches, the pooling of blood in the legs, and aids in the digestive process. Deep breathing gets more oxygen into the blood with each breath, allowing the heart to slow down a little.
A good habit is to go outside in the fresh air and take 1~20 slow, deep, abdominal breaths after each meal and just before retiring for the night. And as we enjoy this time of relaxation, we can give thanks to our Creator God "that giveth breath unto the people." Remembering that "He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." So, "let every thing that bath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD." Isaiah 42:5; Acts 17:25; Psalm 150:6
Compiled by Kurt Unglaub, M.P.H.
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Web page created: 1/26/99 Updated: 12/22/2003