When you exercise, your lungs take in oxygen, which is delivered to your muscles to use to complete the exercise. One of the benefits of exercise on the respiratory system is that it may help to increase your lung capacity or the amount of air you get with each breath.
Your lung capacity may increase with aerobic exercise that makes you breathe harder. Strength training that improves your mobility and posture will also help you take fuller breaths.
Benefits of Lung Capacity
When you exercise and challenge your muscles, the need for oxygen increases. As a result, your breathing rate increases to bring in more oxygen and your heart rate increases to pump the oxygenated blood throughout your body. Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, increases the efficiency of this process and may increase your lung capacity.
In general, the greater your lung capacity, the easier your breathing will be as you are bringing in more oxygen with each breath. However, you may still experience breathing issues if you have poor lung function. As you breathe, oxygen moves into capillaries surrounding the air sacs in your lungs as carbon dioxide moves out of the bloodstream. You then exhale the carbon dioxide and inhale fresh oxygen.
Lung function decreases as you age as the air sacs and capillaries in your lungs naturally begin to stiffen. Other things that may cause damage to your lungs include smoking and air pollution. Some illnesses such as pneumonia may also cause scarring and damage to your lungs.
Lung Capacity Exercises
Your posture greatly affects your lung capacity. Poor posture and weak upper body muscles can prevent your lungs from fully expanding. Harvard Health Publishing recommends strength training for your core and upper body to maintain good posture and mobility in your chest. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do strength training exercises on all major muscle groups at least two times per week.
These guidelines also recommend that you do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. The effect of exercise on the lungs and heart is that it makes the entire cardio-respiratory system stronger. This may include increased lung capacity, although it will not improve lung function.
Consider adding some extra resistance to get the most out of your aerobic exercise by increasing your breathing and heart rate. For example, if you are walking or jogging, include hills or carry hand weights.
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, will increase your breathing rate and may leave you feeling out of breath. However, if you feel short of breath or experience chest pain during exercise, stop immediately and consult your doctor.
Your diaphragm muscle is the main muscle that supports your breathing and allows you to take full inhalations and exhalations. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing exercises may help increase your lung capacity. For example, try this belly breathing exercise from the American Lung Association:
- Lay on your back or sit in a chair with your hands placed on your belly.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose and let your belly expand from the air.
- Exhale through pursed lips.
- Practice for five to 10 minutes.
Some people may develop a condition called exercise-induced asthma, according to the National Institutes of Health. This condition is believed to be caused by environmental factors such as chlorine in a pool. Doctors may prescribe a bronchodilator to keep the airways open during and after exercise to treat this condition.