Lung capacity or volume refers to the amount of air the lungs can hold during a respiratory cycle. It measures how many liters of air can fill your lungs after a forced inhalation and exhalation. It decreases as you age, but you can increase lung capacity even at age 70 by training it, similar to how you build muscles by working out. As you get older, whether you have reached 70 or not, these suggestions can strengthen your respiratory system.
This deliberate respiratory exercise engages your diaphragm and helps you increase lung capacity, which often doesn't happen with unconscious breathing. As you control your inhale and exhale and include the diaphragm in the process, you also relax and increase oxygen in the blood. Here's how to do it.
- Lie on your back comfortably with your knees bent.
- Place one hand on the chest and the other on the belly.
- Inhale through the nose to inflate the stomach. Your hand naturally rises with it.
- Breathe out through pursed lips and feel your stomach return to its normal position.
This exercise is beneficial for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to reduce the symptoms. It's also an effective way to add lung volume capacity.
Another breathing technique to increase lung capacity is with pursed lips. It's useful for those with asthma, COPD, and pulmonary fibrosis who experience breathing difficulties. It helps release stale air, keeps airways open, and supports relaxation. Here are the steps:
- Find a comfortable position and relax your shoulders and neck.
- Inhale through your nose with the mouth closed for two seconds.
- Purse your lips and slowly breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in — in this case, for four seconds.
The trick to make this work is to exhale longer than you inhale. You can use a timer or mentally count the seconds.
Aerobic exercises can also increase lung capacity and improve general well-being. When jogging or walking, your heart and lungs team up to provide you with more oxygen.
As the heart pumps more blood to support the muscles engaged in the activity, you breathe faster and deeper so the blood can pick up more oxygen. Doing so engages the diaphragm.
The diaphragm sits below the lungs and heart and is the main muscle for respiration. You can strengthen any muscle with training. You boost the heart-lung-diaphragm functions during heart-pumping activities, leading to higher lung capacity.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Almost 30% of Americans 65 and older are obese due to inactive lifestyles. Obesity is linked with poor lung function and several other chronic conditions. Doctors recommend exercise as challenges with aging slip into a sedentary way of living.
One study found that central obesity — the type wherein fats accumulate in the abdominal area — was associated with a lower volume of exhaled air. People with weight problems often experience shortness of breath because the excess fat accumulation around the chest and abdomen restricts the lungs' ability to expand during respiration. The outcome is a changing respiration pattern leading to shallow breaths.
Modifying your lifestyle is the most effective way to maintain a healthy weight. Exercising and eating a proper diet can shed unwanted pounds and increase lung capacity.
Visit Your Doctor for a Lung Checkup
Some people undermine the importance of a lung checkup, but you could be at risk of serious conditions without knowing it. It's vital to gauge the potential of lung cancer if you smoke regularly and are between 50 and 80 years old.
Early detection of any lung anomaly is crucial in reversing it, avoiding further complications, and dodging expensive treatment methods. Ensure to visit a pulmonologist for a checkup.
Eat Lung-Boosting Foods
Some foods are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that support full lung function. Examples are:
- Beets and beet greens: Contain nitrates that help relax blood vessels
- Apples and peppers: A powerful antioxidant that supports better lung function in smokers, rich in vitamin C
- Pumpkin: Has carotenoids, beta carotene, and some potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that older people can benefit from
- Blueberries: Full of anthocyanins, which are pigments that shield the lungs from oxidative damage
- Turmeric: Has curcumin, a compound that helps improve lung functions
- Tomatoes: Loaded with lycopene that mitigates the effects of inflammation in the airways
If you have a lung condition, visit your doctor and work with a dietician to find the best foods for your health.
Strengthen Your Lungs at Any Age
Aging has irreversible consequences on lung function. It can weaken the diaphragm or thin out the ribcage bones, but you can do something to minimize its impact and increase lung capacity. Lifestyle modifications, such as exercise and diet, are crucial since they benefit the respiratory system and overall health. They also help lower the incidence of serious illnesses, keeping you healthy as you age.
Lung Function, Aging, and the Importance of Quality Long-Term Care
Much like other organs in our body, the human lung undergoes numerous changes as we age. From infancy to adulthood, the lungs expand in size and function at peak capacity. However, as we move into our older years, several physiological shifts can affect lung function, making the topic especially pertinent for older adults and the need for long-term care.
The intersection of aging and reduced lung function underscores the importance of quality long-term care services. While you and your loved ones should make every effort to strengthen your lungs, aging happens. As respiratory efficiency decreases, many daily activities that were once taken for granted can become strenuous. Simple tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, or even engaging in light household chores can leave an older adult breathless, fatigued, or in discomfort.
In such scenarios, long-term care becomes invaluable. Whether it's in-home care that assists with daily activities, ensuring a safe and breathable environment, or specialized care in facilities equipped to handle respiratory ailments, having the support ensures a better quality of life. Beyond just medical assistance, long-term care provides therapeutic support, helping older adults engage in exercises or routines that can maintain or even improve lung function, even if you have existing health issues.
Furthermore, the financial ramifications of dealing with decreased lung function can be considerable. Treatments, medications, therapies, and specialized care come at a cost. Long-Term Care Insurance serves as a protective measure, ensuring that you have access to the care you need without the stress of immense out-of-pocket expenses.
Being proactive with your health, including improving your lung capacity, is vital as you pass age 50. However, being proactive should also include a plan to address aging and the consequences that long-term care places on families and finances.
About the Author
Beth Rush writes about various health and wellness topics, helping readers learn how to make healthy lifestyle choices and better enjoy their lives.
Contributor since August 9th, 2023
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