Column: Lung power

If you haven't had someone coach you on breathing patterns, you have missed a very important lesson. How to inspirate and how to expirate - how to breathe and exhale -when to do it and how often are all facts you seldom consider unless you are suffering from lung dysfunction.

Clinical facts regarding the lungs are really quite interesting. I can remember my sixth grade teacher leading class through deep breathing exercises to get rid of "dead air." I always imagined cold, useless, dead, grey air lying around somewhere in a corner getting musty. Reality is not a lot different. Some of the air you take in remains in the conducting division of your breathing mechanism. It is known as "dead air" and is in fact that air that you haven't used. Asthma and emphysema patients have a blockage to the small bronchioles in the lungs that absorb air. Therefore, they have less ability to use their air and consequently more "dead air."

A normal adult will have about 150 ml of dead air when all the alveoli in the lungs are ventilated whereas the patient with lung disease may have as much as one to two liters of "dead air," and have quite a bit of non ventilated alveoli in the lungs.

The amount of air you take in is directly related to your size, your age and your sex. You hear that guys? Men have a lot more hot air than women. Your normal quiet breathing, called eupnea, can be achieved with a minimal amount of effort. Hyperventilation is an increase in rate and depth of breathing and the workload increases considerably to a point of labored or dyspnea breathing. Your workload on the lungs is mainly determined by airway resistance, your lung compliance and the lungs' elasticity. When you have had a lung disease, the elastic tissue in the lung is replaced by a fibrous nonelastic tissue and your breathing patterns become more labored, not only for expansion of the lungs but recoil also for expiration of air.

Things to remember. When you sit, sit straight, shoulders relaxed and slightly back to enable your lungs to get the full benefit of your chest cavity. Then keep your chin at a parallel position to give unrestricted flow to the air being brought in. Breathe slowly if you can, using the diaphragm breathing technique and exhale as slow as you can. Air that is forced out rapidly will have part of its oxygen unused. When you put your arms over your head, exhale whether you have healthy lungs or not. Any restriction of the chest, such as crossed arms or arms over the head will restrict your chest expansion. And finally, don't hang your head below your heart for extended periods of time. Just lifting your chin up above your heart during any bending will give you a lot more ability to deep breathe.

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.


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