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Lung function and longevity: is there a link?

Lung capacity, or the amount of air that can be inhaled and exhaled, has been shown to have a significant impact on longevity. Studies have found that People with higher lung capacity tend to live longer of those with low lung capacity.

The lungs play a vital role in the body’s ability to oxygenate the blood and remove carbon dioxide.

When the lungs are functioning optimally, they can efficiently transfer oxygen from the air we breathe into the bloodstream, where it is then carried to the body’s cells and organs.

This process is essential to maintaining good health and preventing disease.

However, when the lungs are not working well, the body is unable to efficiently supply oxygen to the blood, and this can lead to a host of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illnesses.

Similar to other parts of the body, lung function deteriorates with age.

Your lungs usually finish growing by age 25, and their function remains stable for about 10 years. After that, it begins to gradually decrease, and by the age of 65 you have typically lost up to a liter of lung capacity compared to a younger age.

Lungs at work

On inhalation, air flows into the lungs to fill the tiny air sacs. Blood circulates around these air sacs through tiny blood vessels. The point where the blood vessels and alveoli meet is also where oxygen travels into the bloodstream and carbon dioxide leaves the blood to be exhaled.

Aging causes the airways and blood vessels to stiffen, and the alveoli to dilate, making it more difficult for gases to pass into the bloodstream. This usually leads to increased irritability when doing daily activities, Like taking a short walk Or climb a small flight of stairs.

Factors that can accelerate the aging of your lungs include smoking, exposure to air pollution, and frequent respiratory infections. Quitting smoking is undoubtedly the best way to help the health of your lungs.

But there are other variables that can affect lung function.

For example, bones can become thinner as you age, which can lead to osteoporosis and changes in posture that Make your chest smaller And harder. This makes it difficult for your chest to fully expand when you breathe in and reduces the volume of air your lungs can hold. Another factor that plays a big role in the mechanics of breathing is the diaphragm. The diaphragm can weaken with age and prevent you from breathing fully.

Research based evidence

The results of several studies indicate a significant relationship between lung function and all-cause mortality as well as cause-related deaths (such as deaths from ischemic heart disease). [1].

Lung function was assessed from the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) which is the amount of air you can push out of your lungs in one second.

It is measured during a spirometry test, also known as a lung function test, which involves breathing forcefully into a mouth piece attached to a spirometer device.

It has been suggested that the observed association between lung function and mortality may be explained by smoking status [2].

However, notable studies have reported that FEV1 is a risk factor for death regardless of smoking status, and other studies have also found the association in non-smokers. [3].

An important landmark study conducted at the University at Buffalo looked at the relationship between pulmonary function and mortality for periods spanning the past 25 years, which was the limit of previous studies. [4].

This was a prospective study with a follow-up of 29 years.

The participants were a random sample of 554 men and 641 women, ranging in age from 20 to 89 years. Baseline measurements of FEV1 were taken in 1960 and 1961.

Findings from this study indicated that FEV1 is a risk factor for all-cause and ischemic heart disease mortality for a follow-up period of 29 years after adjusting for Other risk factors.

These results are pretty amazing:

  • The researchers found that 20 percent of the men with the poorest lung function at study start were more than twice as likely to die during follow-up as the men with the best lung function.
  • Women in the lowest group were more than 1 times more likely to die.

The results of this research confirm previous reports that lung function is an independent risk factor for overall all-cause mortality and ischemic heart disease mortality and suggest that this risk is evident for longer periods than research has shown up to this point.

Another long-term study called the Framingham Heart Study found a strong association between efficient breathing and a longer life.

In this study, a group of 5,209 men and women were followed for more than 20 years. Each was evaluated in terms of forced vital capacity (FVC) which is simply the amount of air you can forcefully exhale from the lungs after taking as deep a breath as possible. Forced vital capacity was a strong predictor of cardiovascular death and morbidity.

Mechanisms of action

The mechanism for this is not entirely clear. The lung is the primary defense system against environmental toxins, and poor lung function can lead to a decreased tolerance to these environmental toxins. Oxidative stress, which affects FEV1 and health status, may be responsible for the observed relationship [5].

Indeed, oxidative stress is known to play a role in the etiology of various diseases, including ischemic heart disease. [6].

In addition, indicators of oxidative stress have been shown to be negatively correlated with FEV1.

In support of this, other research demonstrates a positive relationship between Antioxidant vitamins and respiratory function [7]However, it has been noted that decreased lung function could also be the primary factor responsible for increased oxidative stress [8].

More research is needed to see if oxidative stress is associated with lung function and mortality.

Inflammation may be an underlying cause of oxidative stress, which plays a role in disease.

Inflammation describes chronic, low-grade inflammation that occurs in the elderly, even when there is no immune threat from pathogenic infection. The inflammation is characterized by a systemic form Increases in levels of inflammatory cytokines (that is, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α) and oxidative stress.

Inflammation involves the ongoing activation of the innate immune system and gut microbiota in the elderly [9]. Dysregulation of inflammatory cytokine networks in the elderly increases their susceptibility to lung injury and results in a more exaggerated inflammatory response than would occur in younger individuals.

Steps to maintain lung function

Although deterioration in lung function occurs with age, there are things we can do to mitigate these deteriorations and maintain healthy lungs as we age. Here are some things that will help with lung function as we age:

  • Practice taking deep breaths. Medical studies show that practicing incentive spirometry on a daily basis for approximately 5-6 weeks significantly improves lung capacity and lung function, including vital capacity, maximal dynamic pressure, maximal expiratory pressure, muscle performance and general appetite. Incentive spirometry is basically the training of the respiratory muscles using various mechanical tools, especially those that provide visual feedback (such as a disposable spirometer)
  • Eat fruits and vegetables. Research indicates that Eating fruits and vegetables directly improves breathing, including general lung function, FEV1 and forced vital capacity. Apples (which contain high levels of the antioxidant quercetin) and vitamin E seem to have a particularly strong positive effect on lung function. Red onions, raspberries, red grapes, raspberries, and various other berries are also high in quercetin.
  • Don’t wear tight clothes. Clothing that restricts movement of the abdomen or rib cage increases resistance, which creates an external load on the system. Restrictive clothing can significantly inhibit breathing, and reduce vital capacity, FEV1, and forced vital capacity.
  • Take big breaths, even when you don’t think you need to. Research shows that exhaling with high lung volumes (i.e. blowing out after taking a large breath) requires less strength and less muscle overall than it does with lower lung volumes. The benefit of elastic reflex on exhalation decreases in an almost linear fashion with lung volume. In other words, the less air you have in your lungs, the greater the effort required to expel a certain amount of air.
  • Practice. Regular physical activity can help increase lung capacity and improve overall lung function. This can be It is done through cardio exercises Like running, swimming, cycling and more.


In general, lung capacity is a determining factor in determining longevity. By taking steps to improve lung function, such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we can help ensure that our lungs are able to function at their best and increase our chances of living a long, healthy life.

1. Hall, D. J., et al., Pulmonary Impairment and Mortality Risk in Men and Women: Results from the Renfrew and Paisley Population Prospective Study. BMJ, 1996. 313 (7059): p. 711-5; Discussion 715-6.
2. Marcus, E.B., et al., Lung function as a predictor of coronary heart disease. Am J Epidemiol, 1989. 129 (1): p. 97-104.
3. Bang, KM, et al. Effect of pulmonary insufficiency on all-cause mortality in a national cohort. Al-Sadr, 1993. 103 (2): p. 536-40.
4. Schunemann, H.J., et al., Lung function is a long-term predictor of mortality in the general population: a 29-year follow-up of the Buffalo Health Study. Al-Sadr, 2000. 118 (3): p. 656-64.
5. Weiss ST, et al. Relationship of FEV1 and peripheral blood leukocyte count to overall mortality. Standard aging study. Am J Epidemiol, 1995. 142 (5): p. 493-8; Discussion 499-503.
6. Trans, CE, et al., Oxygen Radicals and Human Diseases. Ann Intern Med, 1987. 107 (4): p. 526-45.
7. Dow, L., et al., Does intake of vitamins C and E affect lung function in the elderly? Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 1996. 154 (5): p. 1401-4.
8. Schunemann, HJ, et al., Oxidative stress and lung function. Am J Epidemiol, 1997. 146 (11): p. 939-48.
9. Oishi, Y. and Manabe I. Macrophages in age-related chronic inflammatory diseases. NPJ Aging Mech Dis, 2016. 2: p. 16018.
10. Schuliga, M., J. Read, and D.A. Knight, Mechanisms of aging that contribute to tissue remodeling in lung diseases. Geriatrics Res Review, 2021. 70: p. 101405.

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