How Athletes & Musicians Strengthen Their Lung Capacity

Close-up of a young man playing the trumpet
Close up of a man playing a trumpet. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Singers, wind-instrument musicians and athletes all rely heavily on lung capacity to perform their best. Good lung capacity allows musicians to take in a large amount of air to expel for a complex line of music or song and allows athletes to provide their muscles and brain with adequate oxygen during vigorous exercise. Not only does higher oxygen uptake improve endurance, it can also improve brain health, increase alertness and reaction time, and decrease drowsiness.

Healthy Diet, Healthy Lungs

The number one rule for getting healthy, strong lungs is to avoid smoking, which causes serious damage to lung tissue and your ability to absorb oxygen efficiently. Diet is just as important. A balanced diet rich in iron, vitamins E and C, beta carotene and other antioxidants will promote lung health. Eating a calorie-controlled diet will help prevent gaining excess weight that can hinder deep and efficient breathing. It is also important to stay well-hydrated. Drinking water helps thin mucus that can build up in the lungs and hinder healthy breathing.

Exercise and Lung Strength

The best thing you could do to increase the strength of your lungs is to exercise. Though any exercise could improve your lung capacity, some are more effective than others. High-intensity aerobic activities, like swimming, strengthen your heart and lungs, increase delivery of oxygen and make your muscles' use of oxygen more efficient. The full amount of oxygen you can take in during exercise can be greatly improved by interval training, which involves exercising at maximum effort for a short amount of time -- anywhere from 20 seconds to five minutes -- recovering with less intense exercise and repeating the sequence several times.

Deep Breathing

Most people breathe through their noses and mouths irregularly, taking shallow and inefficient breaths into their chest. The easiest way to improve lung capacity is to focus on your breathing throughout the day. When at rest, make sure you are breathing in slowly and deeply through your nose, expanding your diaphragm and not your chest. This is the most efficient way to breathe, because it utilizes more lung capacity in a regular pattern. Because of its concentration on constant deep breathing, yoga is a great exercise for athletes and musicians to practice.

Safety Concerns

Stronger, healthier lungs make for stronger, healthier people, and most of the ways to improve lung capacity are perfectly safe. However, some are dangerous and require care. Lack of oxygen for a prolonged period can cause unconsciousness and severe brain injury. If you are performing breath-holding exercises (especially underwater), exercising at high altitudes or using breath resistance gear like an elevation-training mask, be sure you know how to do these safely and have the supervision of a partner or professional trained in resuscitation.

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