If you’re feeling as though breathing is a little harder than it used to be, it might be that your lung capacity is decreasing. Lungs mature between the ages of 20 to 25 years old. By age 35, your lungs start to lose their capacity by about 2 percent every year. Although this doesn’t seem like much, it builds up over a lifetime. If you don’t take safeguards, by the age of 50, you might see that your lung capacity has decreased by a huge 30 percent.
In the worse case scenario, you may develop COPD — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — wherein blockages of the lungs severely decrease lung capacity to the point where simple tasks such as showering and getting dressed lead to shortness of breath.
The good news that is that you can protect your lung health and capacity through simple tactics. In this article, we’ll be going through the four things that you can do it increase lung capacity and maintain a healthy breath.
What Is Lung Capacity and Why Does It Decrease?
Your lungs are like elastic bags. They contract and constrict in order to let air in and out. But as you age, your respiratory system (including your lungs) undergo structural and physiological changes. These include:
- A decrease in the strength of thoracic muscle, which is what expands and tightens your rib cage where your lungs are located.
- A decrease in the elasticity of the lung tissue, which makes them stiffer and harder to expand.
- Lungs may not function properly, causing air to be stuck within them. This decreases the space available for lungs to take in new air and breathe out old air.
- Signals from the brain to the lungs can weaken over time and nerves throughout the lungs might become less receptive.
Age isn’t the only thing that can decrease the capacity of the lungs. If you don’t use your lungs for a long time, the structural integrity of your lungs and diaphragm can also decrease. For example, when some people are hospitalized for long periods of time, their lungs can become so underused that the sacs collapse. This condition is called atelectasis.
Since the number of persons aged 65 and over is projected to increase from 35 million in 2000 to an estimated 71 million in 2030, the number of people faced with decreased lung capacity is going to rise significantly.
How Is Lung Capacity Measured?
You need to go to a physician to get your lung capacity tested. Spirometry is a diagnostic test that measures lung capacity. It’s most often used to diagnose COPD or asthma. The spirometer tests several areas of lung function, from speed to overall capacity. Other tests that your health care providers might use to measure lung capacity include:
- Gas diffusion: Gas diffusion tests measure how much air moves through the alveoli every minute, determining how well the lungs absorb air.
- Inhalation challenge: Tests how your lungs perform against irritants like dust.
- Exercise stress: Tests how lungs are affected by exercise.
- Body plethysmography: Measures total lung capacity and air left in lungs after a full exhale.
- Multiple-breath washout: This test is for people with cystic fibrosis.
Things You Can Do to Increase Lung Capacity
These actions are not only good for your lungs, but they are also good for your overall health. Read on to find out the top four things you can do to improve your lung capacity.
1. Increase Vitamin D Consumption
Vitamin D is one of the best vitamins to increase lung capacity. Low levels of vitamin D are often associated with respiratory malfunctions and low lung function has been linked to low vitamin D levels. This vitamin plays an important role in respiratory health through its effect on a person’s lung structure and development, in addition to respiratory muscle strength, inflammation, and one’s immune response to respiratory pathogens.
Increasing your vitamin D can improve your lung function and respiratory health. If you live in a sunny area and get at least 15 minutes of sun a day on exposed skin, such as an arm or face, that means that you are getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D. If you live in the northern latitudes, chances are that you are vitamin deficient. People in places like the northern United States and Canada should be taking a regular vitamin D supplement, which can be found in any drug store.
2. Cardiovascular Exercises
Exercise is a key part of maintaining or improving your lung capacity. When you do cardio exercises, your body will improve how it uses oxygen. Regularly increasing your breathing rate strengthens your diaphragm muscle, improving its ability to expand and contract your rib cage.
Your body also becomes more efficient and is trained to use less energy to breathe. The other muscles in your body will require less oxygen to move and produce less carbon dioxide. This will reduce the amount of air you will need to breathe in and out during regular life, making your decreased lung capacity less of an issue. Training also improves your blood circulation and strengthens your heart, which leads to a better delivery of oxygen to the muscles.
3. Stop Smoking
Smoking can cause high blood pressure, poor circulation, and breathing issues. Chronic smokers are at risk of decreasing their lung capacity and causing a smaller volume of oxygen to get to their lungs. As a result, less oxygen will make it to the bloodstream. One of the most common causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is smoking; developing COPD will damage the airways and lungs, leading to the development of long-term conditions and severe health issues.
When a person stops smoking, they can decrease the mucus that coats the lungs, reducing resistance to air. This leads to improved breathing and boosts oxygen absorption.
Smoking is a highly destructive habit, which not only leads to decreased lung capacity, but also to cancer and stroke. Quitting will be the most important thing you do for your health.
4. Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises can help with lung capacity by strengthening the muscles which are used to expand and contract the rib cage. A study looked at the potential of deep breathing exercises to improve lung capacity for COPD patients and found that after 15 weeks, lung capacity increased for those doing the exercises.
When completing breathing techniques, focus on how much air you take in and learn how to breathe more deeply. Remember to maintain good posture while doing deep breathing exercises. Poor posture compresses the lungs and reduces capacity. You should always sit or stand up straight and keep your head facing forward, not down. Refrain from slouching or leaning forward at any time while doing the breathing exercises; this allows you to use your lungs to their full capacity.
Deep breathing is also an effective way to relax. Integrate deep breathing into your regular life with the Spire Stone, which sends signals to your phone when your body is entering a state of unhealthy stress. These signals tell you when it’s time to stop, relax, and do some deep breathing. This will not only make you feel great, but it will also help increase your lung capacity.
Healthy Lungs Throughout Your Life
Although some decline inevitably comes with age, it doesn’t mean that you need to resign yourself to having trouble breathing. As you can see from this post, there are many things you can do to improve your lung function and help your breathing stay healthy.
After all, there are 70- and 80-year-olds that still participate in and win triathlons. In a lot of ways, age is just a number. Consistent healthy habits are the key to lifelong health.