Lung capacity refers to how much air your lungs can hold at a time. Starting in the mid-20s, a person's lung capacity slowly decreases. It's a trend that continues for the rest of your life, but you can slow it down and contribute to lung health as you age.
Find out more about lung capacity and health below and get some tips for exercises you can do to help improve yours.
Before you start breathing deeply or counting your breaths, though, it's important to assess your lung health and whether you might want to see a doctor. Here are some signs you might be dealing with a lung or respiratory issue that requires medical attention:
• You have trouble breathing. This might mean it's painful to draw breath, it feels like a struggle to get breath into your lungs or you never feel like you're getting enough breath.
• You have blue tones on your fingertips or lips. This is a sign that you may need urgent medical assistance. If you're a resident of The Gardens assisted living community in Springfield, MO, reach out to staff or call 911.
• You have chest pain. This can be a symptom of both heart or lung issues and may require urgent medical care.
• You have a cough that is not going away or is getting worse.
• You are running a high fever along with any of the other symptoms, which can indicate an infection or pneumonia.
Whether you've been diagnosed with an issue or you just want to do something proactively to support lung health, you might start with some breathing exercises. Check out the instructions below for a few you can do easily at home or while on the go.
This is one of the easiest breathing exercises to try. It involves taking in air and then pushing it slowly out so that your airways remain open longer. Slowing down how you exhale can help your body get more oxygen.
Here's how you do it:
• Take a slow, deep breath through your nostrils.
• Exhale that breath as slowly as you can.
• To help slow down the exhale, purse your lips and exhale through your mouth as if you're blowing up a balloon or slowly blowing on food to cool it down.
• Repeat the process a few times.
When you're doing this exercise, all your breathing should be slow and deliberate. But your exhale should be around two-times longer than your inhale to ensure you're keeping the breath in for a while.
If you start to feel any adverse side effects of this breathing technique, such as dizziness, stop immediately. Those that are able to do this technique, however, may find it helps them promote calm when they start to feel anxious or stressed.
This one is harder for most people than breathing slowly with pursed lips. If you can't get it right or find it confusing, that's okay. You can ask for help from a respiratory therapist or other healthcare provider if you believe that this breathing technique might help with lung issues.
Reach out to your medical provider or the assisted living community staff if you have questions.
Here's how to do diaphragmatic breathing.
• Sit or lay down in a position you find relaxing and allows you to notice how your chest and stomach rise and fall as you breathe.
• Put a hand on both of those areas to help you understand the motion of your chest and stomach during breathing.
• Breathe in slowly for around two seconds, striving to bring the motion all the way into your stomach. You want your stomach to rise more than your chest.
• Breathe out slowly through pursed lips as in the above exercise.
• Repeat the process a few times.
Again, if you feel any adverse effects, you should stop immediately.
You can do other things to support lung health as an older adult. Here are a few tips for keeping your lungs as healthy as possible.
• Avoid smoking or any other activity that involves drawing contaminants into your lungs. That includes smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars as well as using vaping devices.
• Attend to the air quality in your living space. Depending on where you live and what your respiratory needs are, you might want to invest in quality air filters or air purifiers to remove pollutants from the air in your environment.
• Be aware of outdoor air quality. If a fire or other issue drives air quality down, consider staying indoors as much as possible until the issue is resolved.
• Reduce inflammatory foods and beverages. Sugar and salt can both lead to inflammation in your body, and inflammation in the lungs and respiratory system can make breathing more difficult. Limit these ingredients to reduce this issue.
• Get regular, appropriate exercise. Cardio exercise requires you to draw in more oxygen, putting your lungs to work. Regular exercise can build capacity in your lungs over time. Always consult with a physician before making significant changes to your lifestyle, though.