I recently read that by the age of 50 most people have lost 40% of their lung capacity and by 80 years of age that figure rises to a whopping 60% - and that is in a ‘healthy’ person without respiratory issues.  So by 50, most of us are only using around half of our total lung capacity. Read that again – it is shocking. 

Whilst lung capacity decreases naturally with age as our lungs lose some of their elasticity, decreasing the amount of air your lungs can hold, issues like long COVID and even obesity are apparently speeding up that process.

Breath is life. I have also read, many times, that the quality of your breath determines the quality of your life.  There are many other inspiring quotes – ‘When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.’  ‘Many things are out of our control but our breath isn’t one of them.’  ‘Breathing is free medicine, and the daily practice of breath control leads to optimal health and wellbeing.’

And did you know that ‘inspire’ literally means to ‘breathe in’ or inhale – and yes, the opposite of exhale or expire.  Don’t you just love words.

The quality of the in breath or inhale is actually determined by the out breath or exhale.  Interestingly most people think the inhale comes first and is naturally followed by the exhale – it’s the other way round, releasing carbon dioxide ensures your next intake of oxygen (hopefully).

When you are physically active, your heart and lungs work harder to supply the additional oxygen your muscles demand. Just like regular exercise makes your muscles stronger, it also makes your heart and lungs stronger.  This increases the amount of air your lungs can take in and accommodate – your ‘lung capacity.  Lung capacity and function can vary widely from person to person with the maximum amount of air the lungs can hold being around 6 litres or about 1.5 gallons.

There are numerous breathing exercises you can do to improve lung capacity.  Diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” engages the diaphragm, which is designed to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to breathing.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing:


Relax your shoulders and sit back or lie down.

Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.

Inhale through your nose for 2 seconds, feeling the air move into your abdomen and feeling your stomach move out. Your stomach should move more than your chest does.

Breathe out for 2 seconds through pursed lips while pressing on your abdomen.



The content or idea for this column came about after a sprinting session in a Zuu exercise class.  Zuu, created in Australia back in 2009 by fitness guru Nathan Helberg, is described as ‘the World's Hardest Bodyweight Training’ and to mix it up a bit one week, Scott introduced some sprint training.  Even though I am considered by many to be ‘a runner’, having to dig deep and speed up my pace to sprint for just 30 seconds nearly exploded my lungs.  As the others sped off on their toes, I felt like a baby elephant trying to keep up. My legs felt like they wee working in slow motion, I couldn’t get my breath and I really didn’t feel great. One of the lads even joked, ‘Lynne’s sprint is the same speed as her jog’.  He wasn’t far wrong.

And all that was after 3 minutes of 30 second sprints with 90 second recovery rests in between.  Trust me – at this level we are actually talking about ‘seconds’ of effort not minutes or even hours (as spent at the gym).

As well as opening my lungs, it opened my eyes. 

It is said that 95% of adults over the age of 30 will never sprint again for the rest of their lives. Most won’t even run fast. A lot of people don’t even run.  And many will still take the car when they could walk.

Despite long hours working hard in a physically demanding job, attending exercise classes two or three times a week and even doing the odd HIIT workout in my shed at home, I have (obviously) still been missing that ‘sprint’ element.  HIIT – high intensity interval training is designed to raise your heart rate and improve cardiovascular fitness – and Zuu epitomises that kind of training.  Two minute workouts of specific moves for 15 seconds each has reduced the fittest-looking attendees to their knees – and resulted in most not returning to a class. 

HIIT, Zuu and even skipping will certainly help prepare you for sprint training but it is the actually sprinting sessions that seem to ‘get the results’.


I have been interested in breathwork, since being floored by COVID.  Nose breathing in particular is worth researching – especially if there’s a possibility that you mouth breathe during the night.  Nose breathing can help you have a good nights sleep, which in turn makes everything better, and breathing disciplines – especially combined with something like Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates and meditation – will definitely improve your general wellbeing.


A wealthy American fella has spent years experimenting with different anti-aging and age-reversal methods, including some pretty weird options (if I do say so myself), but he has concluded that of all the weird, wonderful and often eye-wateringly expensive methods he has tried, the most effective have been meditation, breath work and ice baths (or cold showers).


Sometimes it can seem daunting trying to fit all the ‘healthy stuff’ in to a day of never-ending commitments but the good news is that it seems that the things that really help improve our health and wellbeing are not only free but can be done at home – or out in the fresh air (also free).  So if you see me sprinting in bursts (and possibly looking as though I’m about to burst) along the canal or up quiet hilly roads, fear not, I’m not being chased I’m just trying to ‘live at the top of my lungs’.   

ReplyForwardAttendee panel closedFitness column for Abergavenny Chronicle 8th June 2024. 1,000 words(No subject)(No subject)Urgent