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How Indoor Air Can Make You Healthier

This article originally appeared online as part of a paid partnership with WP BrandStudio. The original article can be found on WashingtonPost.com.

Every day, you take somewhere between 17,000 and 23,000 breaths, many of them at home while you're working, exercising or sleeping. But when's the last time you stopped to think about what exactly you're breathing in–and the effect your indoor air could be having on your body?

The act of breathing itself isn't something we spend too much time fretting about, especially when we're at home. We break a sweat holding that yoga pose, or we doze off at night, all the while counting on our body's ability to replace high levels of carbon dioxide with rich, life-sustaining oxygen (an unconscious process known as "metabolic breathing").

But as we go about our lives–as we're busy not considering every inhale and exhale–there's another aspect of this process that's far from our minds: how the quality of our home's air affects those everyday activities.

Here are five key questions you can add to your better-breathing checklist to make sure you're making the most of your indoor air.

1. What's the ideal temperature for an exercise like yoga?
If you already skip the gym in favor of home workouts, you know that there are tons of benefits to exercising in your own space, like getting to work out on your own timeline and avoiding crowded locker rooms.

What you're less likely to be considering as you're doing a downward-dog in your living room along with that online yoga video is how the air around you is affecting the quality of your workout. Assuming you're not perspiring your way through a 105-degree hot yoga session, traditional yoga calls for a temperature between 70 and 76 degrees. You might want to raise or lower your thermostat by a few degrees depending on your personal preference.

But beyond temperature, you also need to account for humidity, airborne pollutants and even a general perception of how the air "feels." A good HVAC system lets you control all of these factors so that your workout leaves you feeling great inside and out.

2. Do air filters really make a difference?
When we think about air pollution, we usually picture a smog-choked highway or exhaust from giant pipes outside a factory. But indoor air contaminants can also make your breathing more difficult, especially for people with allergies or asthma.

From pet dander and dust mites to pollen that hitched a ride on your hair and clothes, the air inside your home could probably use a makeover. HEPA–that's high-efficiency particulate air–filters actually do make a difference.

"Homeowners often don't recognize that the basic one-inch filter they buy at their local hardware store can only do so much to keep basic lint and pollen out," says Sweta Hari, a director of product management at Lennox who works on indoor air quality. More advanced filters, Hari says, can filter out dust mites, pet dander, smoke, smog, and the spread of cough and cold particles.

3. How does air temperature affect sleep?
We spend a third of our lives in pursuit of a "good night's rest." From customized mattresses and white noise machines to ergonomic ear plugs and melatonin, many of us take a scientific approach to getting the best sleep possible.

But none of these things will be of much help if we're not correctly managing the air around us. There's a direct correlation between our body's temperature and our sleep cycle. Research suggests that the ideal condition for sleep sits somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees. If that seems on the cool side, there's a reason: your core body temperature drops to a lower level during sleep. An overly warm temperature interferes with your brain's messages that it's time to get some shut-eye.

Great, so all we have to do is adjust the thermostat for somewhere within that zone, and the ideal sleep conditions are set, right?

Not exactly. Older systems lack the ability to optimize conditions for different rooms and don't factor in temperature changes from space to space. Investing in a more high-tech system can also be an investment in getting a better night's sleep for your whole family.

4. What's the optimal indoor humidity level?
Indoor air that's too moist not only feels damp and unpleasant, but encourages the growth of mold and mildew spores. And as anyone who's lived through a cold winter can attest, indoor heating systems can also be too drying, leading to irritated nasal passages and flaky skin.

Humidity is a measure of the water vapor suspended in the air around you. Inside your home, it can cause troubles from warping your furniture to making you feel sick.

"Oftentimes, humidity levels are the true culprit when it comes to ideal indoor comfort," says Brandon Chase, a senior product marketing manager at Lennox. The ideal relative humidity for health and comfort is somewhere between 30-50%, a factor you can control with an advanced HVAC system. Proper humidity levels can help you feel more alert and energized, while also protecting your belongings, your walls, and the rest of your home.

5. Should different parts of my house be optimized at different temperatures?
Setting our thermostat to the recommended temperature isn't a guarantee that we're getting what's indicated. Older heating and cooling systems kick on or off at one speed, resulting in significant temperature swings. They also lack the ability to optimize conditions for different rooms in our home. What if one room happens to get a lot more sun and as a result, needs cooler air to offset the additional uptick in temperature? Until recently, you'd either have to overcompensate for that room and over-cool the rest of your home or learn to live with a slightly warmer room.

That's where advancements such as variable-capacity motors and zone control come in to play. Which you'll find in whole-home comfort systems like the Lennox Ultimate Comfort System, the quietest, most efficient system available. With the zone-controlling iHarmony® feature from Lennox, you can divide your home in up to four sections that can be individually optimized for whatever you're doing. From the AC unit to the furnace to the proprietary thermostat, every part of this system is designed to work together seamlessly to give homeowners greater control than ever.

Paying attention to the air around you matters. You'll still be automatically inhaling and exhaling. It's just that now, in the back of your mind, you'll know that the air you're breathing is doing more than filling your lungs. It's helping you live better and feel better, from sleep to exercise to overall well-being. Learn more about how Lennox helps you take control of your air.

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