You may not realize it, but if you are over 30, your lungs are getting smaller. The decline of your lung capacity is slow and gradual, but by the time you reach your senior years, it can be devastating.
Lung capacity—your body’s ability to take in oxygen and distribute it to your cells—is what gives you your energy and vitality. Low lung capacity means you won’t be able to exercise well. A very low lung capacity can lead to a loss of your independence as things like walking up a flight of stairs or carrying groceries in from the car become too taxing to face.
Declining lung capacity also increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. This is true even if you don’t have other risk factors like obesity or a history of smoking. You can be in seemingly good health, but if your lungs are shrinking, you are in trouble.
Fortunately, you can prevent a loss of lung capacity. If your lungs have already shrunken, the good news is that you can build them back up.
The Workout for Your Lungs
I know. We all hate the “E” word. But, there’s no way around it—building your lung capacity does take exercise. Don’t cringe, though. You can actually build your lung capacity in very short workouts two or three times a week.
The way you build your lung capacity is by challenging your lungs. You have to push yourself to the point of breathlessness just for a minute and then you can rest and recover. This kind of workout is called interval training. It is hard work, but you can get it done very quickly.
Research shows that interval training successfully builds exercise capacity, cardiac output, and oxygen capacity more effectively than endurance training does.
You can start out interval training slowly. Take a brisk walk until you feel yourself become breathless. Hold your pace for ten more steps and then slow down until you recover your breath. Then increase your pace and repeat the process.
By doing this, gradually your lungs will become stronger and you will have to push yourself a little harder to reach the point of breathlessness—that means your lung capacity is increasing!
If you have a health condition, talk with your doctor before beginning an interval-training program.
One Key Nutrient That Can Make a Big Difference
In addition to the right kind of exercise, nutrition plays a role in your lung capacity. It’s important to get good well-balanced nutrition and to take a well-rounded multivitamin. But I want to focus on a single nutrient that’s exceptionally important to the health of your lungs.
L-carnitine works like an amino acid in your body. It helps your body to metabolize fat, turning it into energy.
Research shows that carnitine levels in your body are closely linked with both heart health and the oxygen capacity of your lungs.
For example, after a heart attack, patients who receive carnitine supplementation have a greater recovery rate, a reduced risk of death, and a lower level of damage. These affects result from carnitine’s ability to clean up free radicals and its affects on the body’s ability to get energy out of nutrients.
In other studies, l-carnitine helps to improve exercise capacity in the people most vulnerable to a diminished lung capacity—those recovering from a heart attack or living with heart failure.
Carnitine is a safe supplement with no known drug interactions. I recommend you take 500 mg three times a day. This combined with three interval workouts a week will put you on track for healthy lung capacity.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.