For 20 years or more it has been known that a persons lung capacity is an indicator of longevity. The facts found in the famous “Framingham Heart Study” states that “The bigger that your lungs are the longer your life will be”. It provides information about the general health of the lungs.
A spirometer is the instrument used in the health profession to accurately measure lung capacity. The average human lungs hold about 5 liters of air. It was recently revealed that Grant Hacket, an Australian swimmer and one of the supreme athletes of world sport, has a whopping 13 liter lung capacity. It can vary with height and age, sex, weight and degree of physical activity. Females tend to have 20-25% lower capacity than males and tall people tend to have more then shorter people.
Unfortunately the capacity for the lungs can’t be physically increased, however there are many ways to improve the efficiency of your lungs and prevent volume loss as you age.
Regular exercise is a great way to help keep your respiratory system strong. Anyone can improve their lung capacity to a degree by exercise that tends to use the large muscles of the body in a rhythmic motion. Moving consistently increases the demand for oxygen and therefore so does the rate of breathing. This works by challenging the heart and lungs and will increase the lungs capacity for work.
Train at Higher Altitudes
Runners who are serious can train at higher altitudes before a race. Some athletes permanently live at high altitude, only returning to sea level to compete, but their training may suffer due to less available oxygen for workouts. It will be larger at higher altitudes of 2,500 m (8,000 ft) above sea level because there is less pressure from the atmosphere. At this altitude, there is only 74% as much oxygen available. The body adapts to the relative lack of oxygen by increasing the concentration of red blood cells and haemoglobin. Once they come down to sea level, they have a larger overall lung capacity for 10 to 14 days because they will still have a higher concentration of red blood cells. But be careful. If you go too high and train too hard you could develop altitude sickness because your lungs can’t process enough oxygen for the body’s needs.
Simply paying attention to breathing, and practicing breathing exercises can improve lung capacity and overall well-being. Proper breathing such as that learned in yoga, will restore concentration and inner calmness when you feel stressed, angry or anxious. Breathing techniques are a powerful tool to calm your nervous system, slow your heartbeat, relieve insomnia, and lessen or even kill pain.
Pursed-Lip breathing is another technique which helps improve lung function before starting activities. It takes about 10 minutes. When first learning the technique, you should lie flat on a bed with your head on a pillow. Later, the technique can be performed while walking or enduring any activity requiring extra air. Firstly inhale through the nose, moving the abdominal muscles outward so that the diaphragm lowers and the lungs fill with air. Then exhales through the mouth with the lips pursed, making a hissing sound. The exhalation should be twice as long as the inhalation, so that pressure is experienced in the windpipe, and chest and trapped air is forced out.
Breath Holding and Coughing is another simple breathing technique. The idea is to inhale deeply and slowly, holding the breath for five to 10 seconds. Then cough gently on exhalation.
Learning how to play a wind or brass instrument such as a tuba, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, or flute will have the effect of increasing it. This works by helping you learn to control breathing and expand your lung capacity to utilize all the alveoli. Playing with correct diaphragm breathing techniques can increase it even further. Singing is also a great way to get the same results.
Diet and Supplements
Various studies have indicated that diets rich in antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, selenium, and beta carotene, improve lung function and may provide some protection against lung damage from COPD among smokers. (In one study, such foods were protective only if they were eaten throughout the smoking years.) Foods rich in such antioxidants include dark colored fruits and vegetables (vitamin C and beta carotene), whole grains, nuts (selenium), and vegetable oils and wheat germ (vitamin E).
A French study found that filling your plate with bright, beta carotene-rich foods can help fight normal slips in lung performance. Beta carotene is the antioxidant compound that gives mangos, carrots, peppers, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, apricots, and many other fruits and veggies their brilliant red, yellow, and orange hues. Over this 8-year study, people who had the highest blood levels of beta carotene lost the least lung function. Beta carotene is a major scavenger of certain types of free radicals that are particularly harmful to the lungs. So basically any bright red/yellow/orange foods, from salsa to squashes, can help keep your lungs young. The same study concluded that Beta carotene and vitamin E are protective even in heavy smokers.
Inflammation Descreases Lung Capacity
June 2007 – A group of New Zealand researchers at the University of Otago in Dunedin took measurements of lung capacity and inflammation in 1,000 young adults aged 26 to 32.
They measured inflammation by looking at blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) which is a marker of inflammation. Inflammation is also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Higher levels of CRP were found in those with smaller lung capacities. The association between higher CRP levels and lower lung function was not related to smoking, lung disease or obesity. The authors said ‘To our knowledge, this is the first report of an inverse association between lung function and CRP in young adults.’
The association between poor lung function and cardiovascular disease may be somehow mediated by inflammation. Their next step is to establish whether inflammation leads to reduced lung function, or vice versa.
However other studies have already shown that foods high in antioxidants protect against loss of lung capacity. So again the evidence points to eat healthy to slow your aging.
Statins Reduce Loss of Function And Keep Old Lungs Young
Oct 2007 – Statins which are known to be good for lowering cholesterol now have another reported benefit. They appear to slow decline in lung function, even in those who smoke. According to researchers in Boston, it may be statins’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help achieve this effect.
Dr. Joel Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, was the first to examine the relationships between statins and lung function decline.
The link between lung function and mortality and the reduced levels of lung function in the elderly indicates the importance of a possibility of reducing the rate of decline,” wrote Dr. Schwartz.
To investigate whether statins had an effect of loss of lung function, the researchers used data from the ongoing and longitudinal Veterans Administration Normative Aging Study, which began in 1963. They analyzed 803 people who had had their lung function measured at least twice between January 1995 and June 2005. Both forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) were measured. The study subjects also completed questionnaires on pulmonary disorders, smoking and medication usage.
They found that people taking statins experienced a much slower annual decline in lung function. In FEV1, statin users lost 10.9 ml on average, whereas nonusers lost an average of 23.9 ml each year-more than twice that of the statin group. Similarly, statin users lost an average of 14 ml a year in FVC, whereas nonusers lost an average of 36.2 ml.
This research suggests that statins’ have an ability to reduce inflammation and smoking related injury in the lung, as well as reduce serum levels of C-reactive protein, which relates to systemic inflammation, and to protect against oxidative damage. All this translates to overall protection from losing lung volume.