We all know that you need to breathe to stay alive. But have you ever thought about what happens to your lungs as you get older. The truth is that lung function declines as you get older. Studies from the 1970’s have shown this way back then. It’s actually shocking that most of the medical community does not discuss this adequately with patients.

Research by Dr. Dean Ward demonstrated that over time, our lung function decreases significantly. In fact, by the time you’re 50, if you are like most people who don’t exercise adequately, you may have lost 40% of your breathing capacity.

A study of 5,209 people over 18 years revealed the significant association between loss of lung power and the development of heart disease, which is the number one killer of men and women. Their data showed a 10-fold increased risk of congestive heart failure as your lung power declines.[1]

Another study performed in England evaluated 7,735 men over 7.5 years. They showed that simply a modest decrease in lungpower had a more than 2-fold increase in risk of heart attack. After adjusting for other risk factors, this increased risk was still over 200%.[2]

Having a stroke is another debilitating disease that no one wants. Lung health has a role in this too. A Copenhagen City Heart Study found that loss of lung volume increased the risk of first-time stroke by up to over 200%.[3]

Add to this age related normal decline of lung function with obesity and the numbers accelerate. Obesity alone was shown to reduce lungpower by 20% to 30% due to increasing respiratory resistance, a reflection of the accumulated extra fat within the chest.[4]

So how do you build up your lung capacity? Breathing in deep exercises is a good place to start. Losing weight is another action from which over 70% of Americans could benefit. The best is to do short sessions of intense bursts of exercise on a regular basis which helps do both actions.

More and more studies are demonstrating the benefits of short bursts of intense interval exercising[5] for lung and heart health. For example, intense sprints alternating with short recovery periods is good. Jogging for long periods may be detrimental: it can breakdown your tissues and result in an increase in inflammation within your body which can increase your risk of heart disease and the aging of your body.[6], [7], [8]

Newer studies are revealing that short sessions of physical activity are more effective than long sessions for lowering the risk of coronary heart disease.[9] Short bursts of exercise were also found to be more effective at decreasing levels of fat and triglycerides in the blood which could otherwise have worsened heart disease risk.[10]

We therefore recommend interval training type programs, especially the PACE program, which is Progressively Accelerating CardioPulmonary Exertion. You do intense bursts of exercise, interspersed with short periods of recovery, and increase the intensity of each burst progressively. In addition to being more beneficial to your heart and to decrease medical conditions, it is also quick. You only need to do it around 12 minutes per day; even less depending on your intensity[11].


[1] Kannel WB, et al., “Vital Capacity and Congestive Heart Failure: The Framingham Study.” Circulation, 1974;49(6):1160-1166

[2] Cook DG, Shaper AG. “Breathlessness, lung function and the risk of heart attack” European Heart Journal. 1988; 9(11):1215-1222.

[3] Truelsen T, et al. “Lung function and risk of fatal and non-fatal stroke. The Copenhagen City Heart Study” Intern Journ of Epidem., April 2000, 30(1), 145-151

[4] Zerah F, et al. “Effects of Obesity on Respiratory Resistance” Chest, 1993; 103(5):1470-1476.

[5] Schnohr P, et al. “Intensity versus duration of walking, impact on mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study” Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil 2007; 14: 72-78.

[6] Siegel A, et al. “Effect of Marathon Running on Inflammatory and Hemostatic Markers” Amer Jour Card. 2001;88(8):918-920

[7] Neilan TG, et al. “Myocardial Injury and Ventricular Dysfunction Related to Training Levels Among Nonelite Participants in the Boston Marathon” Circulation 2006; 114(22):2325-2333.

[8] Liu M, et al. “A marathon run increases the susceptibility of LDL to oxidation in vitro and modifies plasma antioxidants” Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 1999;276(6 pt 1):E1083-E1091.

[9] LeeIM, et al “Physical activity and coronary heart disease risk in men: does the duration of exercise episodes predict risk”” Circulation, 2000:102(9):981-986.

[10] “Short bouts of exercise reduce fat in the bloodstream.” Press release. American College of Sports Medicine. Aug 5, 2004

[11] Zimonjic P “Six Minutes of Exercise a Week is as Good as Six Hours” The Telegraph. Jun 5, 2005