Exercise Improves Respiratory Function

The respiratory function of the lungs and associated tissues is vital in providing oxygen to the numerous cells and tissues of the body. Regular fitness exercise training is believed to improve the functioning of the lungs and the associated bodily structures.

Fitness exercise leads to strengthening and the increase of muscle mass in the chest and the abdominal region, which helps in more vigorous respiratory movement. The overall capacity of the respiratory system is reflected by factors such as breathing rate, the amount of air taken into the lungs with every respiratory movement and the extraction of the oxygen from the air, which increases with regular exercise.

These effects of the lungs have also been attributed to the lack of oxygen in the blood because of increased consumption during exercise. Lack of oxygen in the blood indirectly improves the functioning of the lungs by stimulating them to work harder.1, 2

Not enough oxygen activates a compensatory mechanism in the lungs. The surface area of the lungs (in the form of alveoli)—where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs—is increased following lack of oxygen. Also, the energy outlay for a given activity is also found to reduce after one does prolonged fitness exercises.

There is an overall improvement in the functioning of the lungs following regular exercise. Furthermore, a positive correlation between physical exercise and lung function was noticed in one of the studies in Norway.3,4

A study conducted at the Division of Physiology, Department of Medicine of the University of California, USA, has pointed out that fitness exercise training enhances every component of the oxygen transport and metabolic system, though the physical structure of the lung remains the same. Therefore, we know that exercise training plays a major role in improving the functional capacity of the lungs and associated structures and makes them more efficient.2


  1. Holmen TL. Physical Exercise, Sports, and Lung Function in Smoking versus Nonsmoking Adolescents. Eur Respir J. 2002; 19: 8–15.
  2. Wagner PD. Why Doesn’t Exercise Grow the Lungs when other factors do? Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2005; 33(1): 3–8.
  3. Opdekamp C, Sergysels R. Respiratory Physiotherapy in Lung Diseases. Rev Med Brux. 2003; 24(4): A231–A235.
  4. Scano G, et al. Respiratory Muscle Energetics During Exercise in Healthy Subjects and Patients with COPD. Respir Med. 2006; 100(11): 1896–1906.

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