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Fitness for Older Adults: part five, The Respiratory System

How do our lungs work, what changes as we age and how can we delay breathing issues? This week we'll look at all things respiratory.

Our lungs are big stretchy bags which inflate and deflate as we breathe. As we age our lungs lose their elasticity and become stiff. They can't inflate and deflate to the same extent so we get less air into the lungs but also can expel less. This is compounded by a reduction in the strength and endurance of the muscles which control our breathing, changes in posture which reduce the size of the chest cavity and increasing stiffness around the airways. The upshot is more air remaining in the lungs and an increased effort involved with breathing.

Inside the lungs we have thousands of tiny fingers (alveoli) which increase the surface area. This is so we can facilitate gaseous exchange: the transport of oxygen into our blood and the removal of carbon dioxide. Ageing increases the size of the alveoli which reduces the surface area required for optimum gaseous exchange. As a result, the amount of oxygen entering the body and the amount of carbon dioxide being removed is reduced. As this exchange is vital for exercise, we may become breathless more quickly.

You may think that hair is starting to grow out of the funniest places with age but the growth of the tiny hairs inside our noses actually decreases. These hairs protect the nasal passageways and other parts of the respiratory tract. This is to filter the air and prevent infections so with fewer of them our potential for contracting bugs is higher.

So what can we do to delay this?

We can stop smoking to prevent further damage to the lungs.

We can commit to regular puff'n'pant activity to maintain the respiratory muscles.

We can attend Pilates or yoga sessions which focus on improving breath control and posture to manage our breath and maintain an optimum chest cavity size. Consider a hunched older person - they have less room for their lungs to expand because of their posture.

Have you tried Pilates yet? There are free classes available every week through the Susie Black Fitness Facebook page. This happens when a regular class goer is on holiday for a week and their space is available as a one off. The place is offered to the general public to try a session without having to commit to a full block of six sessions. Follow the page for the updates each Sunday and try Pilates for free.

Tell us how you get on at the Making Change Stick Facebook group.

Enjoy Good Health!

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