As breathing is a simple task, it is easy to overlook the potential benefits it can bring. Increasing your vital lung capacity is one of the ways to significantly improve your physical performance quickly.
Vital lung capacity is the amount of air that can be moved in and out of your lungs within the respiratory system, the process of inspiration and expiration. It represents the change in volume from empty to full lungs. Total lung capacity (TLC) is the maximum amount of air your lungs can hold. It is a highly important measurement to determine the respiratory health of a person, and can indicate the overall body constitution and functional ability. Vital lung capacity is also influenced by factors such as age, gender, height, and genetics as well.
While total lung capacity technically shows how much air your lungs can hold, it is far from the most important measurement because of something called residual volume. No matter how hard you exhale, there will still be air left in your lungs. The amount which is left is the residual volume. The residual volume serves two major functions - the first, it prevents your lung tissue from touching and sticking together, and second, it prevents large fluctuations in the respiratory gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide). What makes residual volume even trickier, is that you cannot really measure it, since it never leaves your lungs. The residual volume is often far too high for the function it is meant to perform.
As weird as it might sound, our breathing habits are influenced by our culture. Have you seen a newborn baby sleeping? Or have you noticed how their bellies fill up with every breath? You have probably stopped breathing that way a long time ago.
"Tuck in your belly. Don't slouch!", we have all heard those commands when someone has addressed the way we stand. True, posture is important. However, it can compromise our breathing patterns.
The crucial issue lies in the difference between chest breathing and belly breathing. Belly breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing. Our chest cavity is separated from the abdominal cavity by the diaphragm. Throughout our lives, we learn to thump your chest, which can only expand so much. This, unfortunately, results in shallow breathing, as we do not utilize the diaphragm fully. Since we tend not to use the diaphragm, it becomes inflexible and cannot move high amounts of air in and out of the lungs, and thus the residual volume increases.
If practised regularly, inspiratory muscle training can increase your respiratory strength and can help your lungs get rid of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels, and help the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe. Deeper breathing uses a bit more energy but also allows more oxygen to enter the bloodstream with each breath while strengthening the respiratory muscles. Increasing the amount of oxygen sent to your muscles means that you can perform longer and preserve more energy. Simply put, it’s like increasing your gas tank, which means fewer stops and more progress.
Your lung functions decline as you age, and it can make breathing more difficult. Your lungs start to mature by the time you are about 20-25 years old and after the age of 35, it is normal for the lung function to start declining. Muscles, just like the diaphragm, will get weaker, and the lung tissue that helps keep your airways open will lose elasticity and result in your airways beginning to contract.
Your ribcage bones start to decrease in size, which leaves less room for your lungs to expand. With the diaphragm not working at full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the neck, back and chest for breathing. This translates into lower oxygen levels and creates less reserve for exercise and activity. However, the change in your lung capacity that happens as you age can be compensated for.
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