Breathing, Aging, and Aerobic Capacity: What You Need To Know, and What You Need To Do Now.

(The diaphragm–your most important skeletal muscle) 

Aerobic capacity is an important concept to any athlete. It takes a lot of oxygen to get things done at record-breaking levels. We all like to break records, even if they’re just our own.

Aging, however, rewrites the personal record book. All the numbers start to decline due to diminishing capacities. This brings us to the importance of the moment. If you want to have more physical resources in the future, you need to start strengthening what you have now; including bone density, aerobic capacity, and physical strength. What follows is a basic overview of why respiratory capacity changes over time (without considering disease or smoking), so that you can appreciate the importance of exercise.

Respiration involves the mechanical interplay of muscle and bone working together to bring air into and out of the lungs. Because bones can change in shape and quality with age and muscles can weaken, the body’s ability to move air through the pulmonary system degrades. At the fine level of the alveoli, where the actual oxygen exchange occurs, degradation with age is a fact, as well. Other issues are also at work, but these facts give you an insight into the importance of the muscles and bones of the rib cage.

One of the most informative articles on improving breathing comes from Will Kimball, Associate Professor of Trombone at Brigham Young University, whose article, “10 Proven Ways to Improve Breathing…” is well worth reading:

Increase Your Aerobic Capacity Now

An excerpt from an internet article, “Effect of Aging on Respiratory System Physiology and Immunology” by Sharma and Goodwin 2006 September, highlights the importance of regular training:

“The effect of aging on exercise capacity is highly variable and depends upon individual fitness and regular physical activity. Maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max), an objective surrogate of fitness, peaks between 20 to 30 years of age, then declines by a rate of about 1% per year depending upon individual level of physical activity (declining more in sedentary compared with physically active adults). McClaran et al (1995) studied the longitudinal effects of aging on lung function at rest and during exercise in healthy older adults and showed an 11% reduction in VO2 max as a group over a 6 year period. All participants were highly trained in aerobic fitness, and their VO2 max was still twice the age predicted maximum.”  Bold print not part of original article.   ( Clin Interv Aging. 2006 September; 1(3): 253–260.)

Here’s a great article by a 69 year old marathoner who reflects on her decline in performance over the years due to aging:

The takeaway: when it comes to defense against aging, take the offensive and get stronger and fitter now! You will definitely have more reserves to enjoy what’s really important later.

Research Update: 05/17/16
“Being fit may reduce decline in lung function… ”

To Your Healthy Lifestyle,


The Senior Health and Fitness Blog by Steven Siemons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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Steven Siemons

Promoting Health, Fitness and Wellness as a Lifestyle. Changing the look of Senior fitness one rep at a time.

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