Lung health – why is exercise so important?
Written by: Monica
Published on: October 19, 2020

Engaging in regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, wellbeing, and longevity. But have you ever stopped to think that exercise can also help you keep your lungs healthy? 

So how does exercise strengthen your lungs you ask? Well, when you are physically active, your heart and lungs need to work harder to supply the additional oxygen your muscles need. Just like regular exercise makes your muscles stronger, it also makes your lungs and heart stronger.

As your physical fitness improves, your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to the working muscles. That’s one of the reasons why you are less likely to become short of breath during exercise over time. 

The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults get at least 30 min of moderate intensity exercise five days a week. Most adults think they are getting this physical activity in but when push comes to shove most are not even succeeding with 50% and those that are, are not exercising at a moderate intensity.

For example: For a healthy person, moderate exercise might be walking at a pace of 4 to 6 km per hour. If you have a lung problem, you would need to walk fast enough to make you moderately breathless.

If you want more guidance around what moderate physical activity looks like for you, please reach out and one of our friendly Accredited Exercise Specialists will have a chat with you.

Now both aerobic activities and muscle-strengthening activities can benefit your lungs. Aerobic activities like walking, running or skipping give your heart and lungs the kind of workout they need to function efficiently.

Muscle-strengthening activities like weight-lifting or Pilates build core strength, improving your posture, and toning your breathing muscles. Certain breathing exercises such as balloon breathing in particular is a great way to strengthen your diaphragm and train your body to breathe more deeply and more effectively. 

As mentioned earlier, during exercise, the two most important organs of the body come into action: the heart and the lungs. The lungs bring oxygen into the body, to provide energy, and remove carbon dioxide, the waste product created when you produce energy.

When you are exercising your muscles work harder, the body uses more oxygen and therefore produces more carbon dioxide. To cope with this extra demand, your breathing has to increase from about 15 times a minute (12 litres of air) when you are resting, up to about 40–60 times a minute (100 litres of air) during exercise.

Your circulation also speeds up to take the oxygen to the muscles so that they can keep moving.(1)

When your lungs are healthy, you have a large breathing reserve. You may feel ‘out of breath’ after exercise, but you will not be ‘short of breath’.

When you have reduced lung function, you may use a large part of your breathing reserve therefore, you feel ‘out of breath’, which can be an unpleasant feeling, but it is not generally dangerous.

The most important thing is to look after your lungs and keep them healthy.Smoking will affect your ability to undertake physical activity and reach your true potential. If you quit smoking, you are likely to be able to exercise for longer as early as two weeks after your last cigarette. 

Exercise is the best medicine as it also decreases the risk of developing other conditions such as stroke, heart disease and depression. Furthermore, regular exercise is also one of the most important interventions to prevent the onset of type-II diabetes.

So, when should you visit your doctor? Well, it is important that you are aware of the symptoms associated with lung problems, such as cough, shortness of breath or fatigue, and that you see your doctor about them as soon as possible.

A spirometry test assesses your breathing and can help in the diagnosis of any lung problems. Don’t worry, if you have lung condition regular exercise can help improve symptoms. By all means it can be daunting being out of breath or have breathlessness but avoiding exercise will be your downfall. You will become less fit and your activities of daily living will become even harder. 

It is best to seek guidance for an exercise specialist such as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist before you begin exercising. This will be to ensure you are exercising in a safe manner and that you are gradually progressing.

References:

Your Lungs and exercise(2016) European Lung Foundation, 12(1), 97-100..

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