Love Your Lungs: Get Proactive!

By Amy Brunvand

Here are some simple daily choices that can make a difference in your personal health and for the community.

Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You’ll be dead soon enough.

— William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories


Before you plan your day, check the Air Quality Index.

If it’s yellow or red, take action. (Utah Department of Environmental Quality) (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Enter your zip code)

Wear an air pollution mask.

A surgical mask won’t filter fine particles. Make sure yours is rated 95 or 99 and has a tight fit. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment suggestions include 3M and Totobobo. Winter athlete Jim French recommends Respro. Local mask maker JaMo is getting good comments. (See photo above)

Try not to make the air worse.

Walk, bike, carpool or use public transit. Some employers might let you telecommute on red air days if you ask in advance.

If you have to drive, be mindful of pollution.

Eco-driving strategies keep gunk out of the air and burn less gas. Do these things all the time and save up to 33% on fuel costs:

  • Don’t warm up or idle your vehicle for more than 10 seconds. (City law limit is two minutes.)
  • Combine several errands into a single trip.
  • Don’t use drive-through windows.
  • Avoid rush hour congestion.
  • Drive smoothly—slow down and no jackrabbit starts.
  • Maintain your engine.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated.
  • Remove extra weight from your car (for instance, take off sports racks not in use).
  • Plan ahead and avoid filling your gas tank on red air days.

Work out at the gym.

If you exercise outside, do it early in the day when pollution levels are lower. Stay away from busy streets. Stop if you have trouble breathing or feel unusually fatigued.

Eat antioxidants.

Luckily, these include yummy things like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, purple grapes, nuts, dark green veggies, apples, green tea, coffee, dark chocolate and garlic.

Regarding garlic, herbalist Merry Lycett Harrison of Millcreek Herbs notes that garlic is excreted through the lungs. “Garlic offers us an easy, everyday therapy we can use to keep fluids moving so the lungs don’t become congested. I like to infuse warm butter or olive oil with fresh garlic and pour it over veggies or dip bread into it. Cooking causes the flavor to be milder but for best therapeutics [use fresh and] only cook it for about five minutes.” (CATALYST, January 2014, “Herbal help for healthy lungs. “)

Reduce the amount of energy you use.

It may seem abstract, but the impact is real: Turn off lights when you leave the room. As CFL lightbulbs die, replace with LEDs (which use half the energy). Fill the dishwasher before you run it. Lower your thermostat—put on a sweater. Frequent and long hot showers use a lot of energy for heating water. Plug your computer and TV into power strips that you turn off when not in use. Shovel instead of snow blowing (or make sure your machine is well maintained). Although there are no coal-fired power plants in the Salt Lake Valley their are a number of natural gas fired power plants.

Learn about air pollution and health, and related citizen action for clean air:

Air Pollution & Public Health in Utah: (watch the videos)

Air Pollution & Public Health in Utah Report (2015) awarchive? item=76861

Breathe Utah:


Utah Moms for Clean Air: groups/56252534318/

Heal Utah:

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment:


State legislators are standing by, ready to take your call.

The 2018 Utah State Legislature convenes January 22. Legislation is on the table that can make a difference. Let your legislator know air quality matters to you. Be specific and practical when you call. Helpful governmental solutions include:

strict air quality regulations

improved enforcement

incentives for cleaner vehicles

public spending on amenities for walking, biking and public transit

“We want to hear from you,” says Rep. Patrice Arent, District 36. To find out who represents you, visit


Remember what William Saroyan says. Send your lungs some love. Respect them. Treat them with reverence. Act on their behalf.



This article was originally published on January 1, 2018.