We all know that exercise is good for your health. But did you know that exercise is also beneficial for your lungs? Certain exercises can help your lungs work more efficiently, Lung Foundation Australia’s Exercise Manager Emma Gainer tells Starts at 60. But before we delve into the exercises, here’s a brief overview of how your lungs work.
Gainer says it’s important to know the difference between lung capacity and lung function. While lung capacity refers to the maximum amount of air that your lungs can hold, lung function refers to how well a person is breathing — for example, how quickly you can inhale and exhale air from your lungs and also how effectively your lungs both oxygenate and remove carbon dioxide from your blood.
“If your lungs are either not able to hold enough air or move oxygen into the blood quick enough to meet the demand of your body, a common physiological response is being short of breath,” Gainer says.
Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnoea, can be caused by a variety of health conditions affecting the lungs, heart or other health systems. For example, shortness of breath is a common symptom of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But sometimes breathlessness is caused by no disease at all and may be associated with age, weight or just a lack of fitness.
However, while lung function may decline with age, Gainer says if you’re experiencing any new, persistent and unexplained symptoms such as breathlessness, don’t ignore them. She says you can use this simple two-minute questionnaire to help you better understand your symptoms.
“If you get out of breath more easily than others your own age, or experience any sudden difficulties in breathing, it’s really important that you discuss it further with your GP,” she advises.
Just like regular exercise keeps your body in good shape, it also keeps your lungs in tip-top shape. Gainer says getting regular exercise can improve lung function in those with or without a lung condition, and reduce breathlessness in people with chronic lung conditions. To put it simply, the more you’ll exercise, the better you’ll feel and the easier it’ll become.
Gainer recommends incorporating aerobic exercises, such as walking or swimming, most days of the week, and strength-based exercises twice a week. Don’t know where to start? Gainer recommends introducing squats, step-ups, wall push-ups and bicep curls into your routine. If you’re new to strength training, Lung Foundation Australia recently launched Maintaining Movement Series, an at-home exercise program which includes instructional videos online — all you need is your bodyweight and a little bit of space. Of course, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
For older people who live a much more sedentary lifestyle, Gainer recommends taking deep breaths at intervals throughout the day. Taking deep breaths will help keep your lungs open and allow your body to fully exchange incoming oxygen and with outgoing carbon dioxide.
However, if you’re not a fan of working out at home, Lung Foundation Australia also runs a number of community-based exercise classes all over the country. Lungs in Action classes provide exercise training for people with chronic lung conditions and heart failure. “Lungs in Action is a great way to stay connected and keep on top of your exercise regime,” Gainer
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