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Lung training for more endurance

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  • Why is it important to train your lungs?
  • How can I train my lungs?
  • How does posture affect breathing volume?
  • Which breathing exercises support lung function?
  • Which additional measures increase lung capacity?

The human lung consists of over 300 million tiny sacs that tirelessly enrich our blood with oxygen from the air and release carbon dioxide. A man breathes in and out around 20,000 times a day. There are good reasons why we should optimize your working conditions: Not only do you increase your body’s endurance performance. Your health also benefits: As an important part of our immune system, the lungs catch pollutants and pathogens and use tiny hairs to transport them to the mouth where they can be coughed up.

Why is it important to train your lungs?

The better the alveoli work and the larger the lung volume, the more oxygen gets into the blood and the more efficient we are. Professor Klaus F. Rabe, board member at the German Center for Lung Research (DZL), explains how you can support your lungs to optimally supply your heart and muscles with oxygen, keep your cardiovascular system healthy, increase your athletic performance – and yourself to feel better all around. These are the most common lung diseases.

How can I train my lungs?

“You cannot train the lungs themselves,” says Professor Dr. Rabe, “But by doing something to the chest that surrounds the lungs, you can increase the oxygen uptake capacity.”

The muscular environment that surrounds the fine bladder organ for oxygen absorption primarily includes the diaphragm, the muscles between the ribs and the auxiliary respiratory muscles in the neck. Professor Rabe: “In order for the muscles to move and stretch dynamically, the thorax wall must be able to move. Too much fat on the chest wall limits upward expansion, and a fat belly hinders the diaphragm’s downward expansion.” So the more body fat you carry, the more restricted your breathing is. And the slimmer you are, the more dynamic your lungs are.

But be careful: “The breathing pump depends on muscular performance. Anyone who is underweight and doesn’t eat healthily weakens their muscles, and thus also those of the muscles that surround the lungs,” says Professor Rabe.

In order to be less likely to get out of breath during endurance sports in the future, Professor Rabe recommends regular endurance training and strength training in a ratio of three quarters to a quarter. His favorite is backstroke: it challenges the entire body and especially the upper body muscles.

How does posture affect breathing volume?

You can also increase your breathing volume through your posture. “A crooked posture impairs the ability of the chest to expand,” says Professor Rabe. There are special gymnastics for the supporting system to combat posture problems. To do this, the muscles between the shoulder blades should be specifically challenged. For example, with rowing movements with a gymnastic band (available from Theraband, for example) that you wrap around your feet.

In the gym, lat pull-down stations and rowing machines are good training devices for the upper back muscles. Don’t forget: In order to maintain an upright posture, both the back and abdominal muscles must be balanced and strong. So: don’t neglect abdominal muscle training! These 14 exercises will improve your posture.

Which breathing exercises support lung function?

“Relaxation exercises, breathing exercises and yoga exercises can help you breathe more economically and deeply,” says Professor Rabe. Many people tend to “shallow breathe” in stressful situations, meaning they only breathe into their chest and not into their stomach. Many people get used to this false breathing. But with deep breathing, the diaphragm and thus also lung activity are activated significantly more. If you also tend to do this, you should do this exercise every now and then: Stand upright, place your hands on your sides and consciously breathe in against your hands. Make sure you exhale slowly and completely. You will notice that stress decreases, blood circulation improves and you feel more comfortable.

Which additional measures increase lung capacity?

Of course, it is very important for lung function not to smoke. “No matter how old you are and how long you have been smoking, it is never too late to stop smoking,” says Professor Rabe. The toxic ingredients in a cigarette destroy the cilia that remove pollutants from the lungs, narrow the airways and destroy the lung tissue. This is how you finally become a non-smoker.

According to Professor Rabe, it has not been proven whether a special diet, for example with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, can increase lung capacity. However, it is undisputed that a healthy diet supports lung function. The nutrients reach the lungs via the blood, supporting and cleansing of harmful toxins. Drinking a lot of water also increases blood flow to and from the lungs.

A benefit from houseplants has also not been proven and could do more harm than good due to the formation of mold and fungi in the soil. Basically, pollutants from the air can have a negative impact on the lungs and should therefore be avoided. For example, you should not do your endurance training on a busy street during rush hour.

Scientists have now shown in a study that limited lung function can also be the result of a severe Covid-19 infection. In general, if you notice that you get out of breath very quickly during endurance training, it makes sense to have a lung function test done by your doctor. The test provides information about whether the lungs are working optimally or whether you should have other parameters examined, such as the cardiovascular system.

“If you have healthy lungs, it helps not to smoke, lose weight and exercise a lot to increase lung volume,” sums up Professor Rabe. Then you will not only be more efficient and healthier, but you will also feel that way.

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