The Effects of Exercise on Lung Capacity

Fast-moving exercise causes your heart and breathing rates to increase, delivering fresh oxygen to your bloodstream and energy to your muscles. Your lung capacity can be increased through regular aerobic workouts, but only by a modest amount, according to Dr. Tim Noakes, author of "The Lore of Running." Consult your primary-care physician to determine which forms of exercise would benefit you.

A woman jogs in the snow. (Image: BartekSzewczyk/iStock/Getty Images)

How Exercise Helps

Regular aerobic exercise strengthens and tones the heart and lungs, enabling the pulmonary system to increase the maximum amount of oxygen that the lungs can handle, according to the Merck Manuals online medical library. Exercise makes muscles stronger and improves range of motion in joints, assisting you in performing tasks that require physical exertion.

Limited Improvement

The average person's lung capacity can be improved only 5 percent to 15 percent even with frequent intense aerobic workouts, according to Noakes. Everyone is born with a specific maximum lung capacity, called VO2 Max, which refers to the rate of oxygen flow. When your heart rate increases during aerobic exercise, your oxygen consumption increases: this provides the necessary energy to your muscles for the strenuous activity.

Effects of Breathing Exercises

The practice of deep-breathing exercises may gradually increase your lung capacity. Deep belly breathing lowers the diaphragm to fully expand your lungs on inhalation and uses your abdominal muscles to squeeze air out on exhalation, resulting in larger breath volume, writes Dr. Timothy McCall in "Yoga Journal." Breathing deeply through your nose helps you bring in more fresh, clean oxygen than you get with shallow breathing, and has a calming effect.

Keep It Up

Regular aerobic exercise keeps your heart and lungs strong so you can maintain a healthy lung capacity. Experts recommend some form of aerobic exercise at least three times per week for 20 to 40 minutes per session for optimal fitness, according to the President's Council on Physical Fitness. Consult your doctor prior to starting any new exercise program.

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