As breathing is such a simple task, we do it without thinking, and it's easy to overlook the potential benefits it can bring. Increasing your vital lung capacity is one of the ways of significantly improving your physical performance quickly. Vital lung capacity is the amount of air that can be moved in and out of your lungs within one respiratory cycle. The vital capacity represents the change in volume from completely empty to completely full lungs. It is an important measurement to determine a person’s respiratory health, and indicate the body's constitution type and functional ability. Usually, the vital lung capacity is affected by factors like age, gender, and height, and it can be affected by genetics as well.
While total lung volume technically shows how much air your lungs can hold, it is far from the most important measurement, and that's because of something called a residual volume. No matter how hard you exhale and push everything you can out, there will be air left in your lungs. Residual volume serves a function - it prevents your lung tissue from touching and sticking together, and it prevents large fluctuations in respiratory gases O2 and CO2. What makes residual volume even trickier, is that you cannot really measure it either, since it never leaves your lungs. The issue is that the residual volume is often far too high for the function it's meant to perform.
As weird as it sounds, our breathing habits are influenced by our culture. Have you seen a newborn baby sleeping? 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 never addresses the changes in our breathing patterns.
The crucial issue lays in the difference between chest breathing and belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing. Our chest cavity is separated from the abdominal cavity by the diaphragm. Throughout our lives, we learn to thump our chest, which can only expand so much. This, unfortunately, results in shallow breathing, as we don't utilize the diaphragm fully. Since we tend not to use the diaphragm, it becomes inflexible, it can't move high amounts of air in and out of the lungs, and the residual volume increases.
Unfortunately, your lung functions decline as you age, and it can make breathing more difficult. With time, muscles like diaphragm get weaker and lung tissue that helps keep your airways open loses elasticity, which means your airways start to contract. Your rib cage bones start to decrease in size which leaves less room for your lungs to expand. With the diaphragm not working to full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the neck, back and chest for breathing. This translates into lower oxygen levels, and less reserve for exercise and activity.
But that change can be compensated for. If practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get 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. More oxygen in your system means you can perform longer and preserve more energy. Simply put, it's like increasing your gas tank, which means fewer stops and more progress made.
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