Posted on Jan 21, 2019, 4 p.m.
The ever important lungs have two main functions: To get oxygen from the air into the body; and to remove carbon dioxide from the body. Yet even these vital organs are not immune to the aging process which undergo various anatomical, physiological, and immunological changes with age.
When we breath air enters and exits the lungs, inhaling brings air in through the airways into the lungs which are made of tiny stretchy tissues with bands of muscle and other support tissue wrapped around each airway to keep them open. Air will keep flowing into the lungs until tiny air sacs are filled, blood circulates around these air sacs through tiny blood vessels and oxygen crosses into the bloodstream where the blood vessels and air sacs meet; this is also where carbon dioxide crosses from the bloodstream into the lungs to be exhaled out.
Respiratory changes with age include chest wall and thoracic spine deformities impairing the respiratory system; lung parenchyma losing supporting structure causing dilation of air spaces; muscle strength decreasing impairing effective coughing; progressive decline in lung function; alveolar dead space increasing affecting carbon dioxide elimination; receptors undergoing changes making them less likely to respond to drugs; and decreased sensation of dyspnea and diminished ventilatory response to hypoxia and hypercapnia causing vulnerability to failure during high demand states.
Changes in the body with age also affects the lungs such as bones become thinner and change shape which can change ribcage shape so it may not expand and contract as well during breathing; and the diaphragm may become weakened which can prevent you from breathing enough air in and/or out. Such changes in bones and muscles may lower oxygen level in the body, and less carbon dioxide may be removed causing symptoms such as tiredness, and shortness of breath.
Changes to the lungs such as muscles and tissue near the airways may lose ability to keep the airways completely open causing them to close easily; and aging causes the air sacs to lose their shape and become saggy.
Parts of the brain that control breathing may lose some function with age, as a result the lungs are not able to get enough oxygen and not enough carbon dioxide leave making it more difficult to breath. Nerves in the airways which trigger coughing can become less sensitive which will allow larger amounts of particles to possible collect in the lungs that may be hard to cough up.
With age the nervous system and immune system can change and become weaker, meaning the body is less able to fight lung infections and other diseases, and the lungs are less able to recover after exposures to smoke or other harmful particles.
Older individuals are at increased risk for lung infections, pneumonia, bronchitis, shortness of breath, low oxygen level, sleep apnea, and abnormal breathing patterns as a result of these changes to the respiratory system.
There are things that can be done to help to reduce the effects of aging on the lungs such as not smoking as it has been shown to speed up the aging process; limit exposure to harmful chemicals; and participating in physical exercise to make the lungs strong and improve lung function. Be sure to get up and move around, lying in bed or sitting for long periods of time has been proven to be bad for you, and it allows mucus to collect in the lungs which will put you at increased risk for lung infections, which is especially true right after being ill or having a surgery. Physical exercise has been shown time and time again to help slow the signs of aging and improve health.
Over time lung capacity and function will slowly decrease after we pass the mid 20s, conditions such as COPD and smoking can significantly speed up such reductions. However staying active and participating in exercise can help to maintain and increase lung capacity to help keep them healthy and supplying the body with the oxygen it needs.
Diaphragmatic breathing: In addition to physical exercise this technique engages the diaphragm to help strengthen it. When rested relax the shoulders and lie back or sit down; place one hand on the belly and one on the chest; inhale through nose for 2 seconds feeling air moving into abdomen and stomach moving out; breath out for 2 seconds using pursed lips while pressing on the abdomen; repeat.
Pursed lips breathing: In addition to physical exercise this technique can help the lungs to function and improve exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Inhale slowly through nostrils; purse lips; breathe out as slowly as possible through pursed lips taking at least twice as long as it did to inhale; repeat.
As always prevention is the best medicine, keep working with your lungs to keep them healthy and efficient as it is the better option rather than trying to repair them after something goes wrong. It is important to stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke; consume a variety of foods rich in antioxidants; participate in physical exercise more frequently to improve lung function; and try to improve indoor air quality to reduce mold, dust and pollutants that can impact the respiratory system.
“Health care professionals can measure several lung function parameters and get a percentile ranking for a person's age and gender by using a device such as the AgeMeter, which also does the same for over a dozen functional biomarkers of aging. Determining how young or old a person functions is the way to validate the results of biochemical and genetic biological age tests and whether aging intervention therapies are working.” ~ Elliott Small, President and founder of Centers For Age Control Inc.
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