WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR LUNGS WHEN YOU AGE
Its difficult to deny that you're aging when you start seeing fine wrinkles around your eyes and when you start developing grey hairs. You may see other changes in your body too, which should require attention and proper care.
Your lung health can change with age too,
It’s easy to imagine that you’ll always breathe easily, but as you get older, your lungs lose strength and become more vulnerable to disease.
First and foremost, let's talk about the lungs and see what it looks like
The lungs are the main organs of the respiratory system(the system that aids our breathing) and are responsible for performing gaseous exchange (taking in oxygen and giving out carbon dioxide)
The lungs are paired (right lung and left lung)and are separated into lobes; the left lung is separated into 2 lobes, while the right lung is separated into 3 lobes .
Blood circulation in the lungs is called pulmonary circulation, oxygen and carbon dioxide are carried to the lungs and out of the lungs respectively through the bloodstream , the function of the pulmonary circulation is to aid in gaseous exchange.
The lungs are surrounded by your sternum (chest bone) and ribcage on the front and the vertebrae (backbones) on the back. This bony cage helps to protect the lungs and other organs in your chest.
This is what a real lung looks like. (Picture is mine).
THE PATHWAY OF A BREATH
When you breathe in, air enters through your mouth or nose and travels down your throat into the trachea(your wind pipe),
into the lungs through the right and left main bronchi(branches of the wind pipe),
into the smaller bronchi airways, into the even smaller bronchiole tubes, into the alveoli.
Each alveolus( air sacs, small balloon-like structures) is covered by a net of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. Oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange happens here. Your heart sends deoxygenated blood to the lungs. This is blood that is carrying carbon dioxide rather than oxygen.
As the blood passes through the tiny, thin-walled capillaries, they get oxygen from the alveoli. They return carbon dioxide through the thin walls to the alveoli.
The oxygen-rich blood(oxygenated blood) from your lungs is sent back to your heart, where it’s pumped to your entire body. The carbon dioxide is breathed out of the lungs and alveoli through your mouth and nose.
THE AGING LUNG
As you age, changes affect your lung tissue, muscles and bones, which all impact your breathing. After about 35 years of age, lung function declines as you age and as a result, breathing can slowly become more difficult over time.
There are several body changes that happen as you get older that may cause a decline in lung capacity:
Bones and muscles of the chest and spine changes:
Bones become thinner and change shape. This can change the shape of your ribcage. As a result, your ribcage cannot expand and contract as well during breathing.
The muscle that supports your breathing, the diaphragm, becomes weakened. This weakness may prevent you from breathing enough air in or out properly, and this change is noticeable when exercising.
These changes in your bones and muscles may lower the oxygen level in your body, and also result to less carbon dioxide being removed from your body. Symptoms such as tiredness and shortness of breath can result.
Lung tissue changes:
The muscles and other tissues that are near your airways may lose their ability to keep the airways completely open. This can cause the airways to close easily.Aging also causes the air sacs to lose their shape and become baggy.
These changes in lung tissue can allow air to get trapped in your lungs. Too little oxygen may enter your blood vessels and less carbon dioxide may be removed like I mentioned previously. This makes it hard to breathe.
Nervous system changes:
The part of the brain that controls breathing(which is the medulla oblongata) may lose some of its function. When this happens, your lungs are not able to get enough oxygen. Not enough carbon dioxide may leave the lungs. Breathing may get more difficult.
Nerves in your airways that trigger coughing become less sensitive to foreign particles. Large amounts of particles like smoke or germs may collect in the lungs and may be hard to cough up which can damage the lung tissue.
Immune system changes:
Your immune system can get weaker. This means your body is less able to fight lung infections and other diseases like flu and pneumonia.Your lungs are also less able to recover after exposure to smoke or other harmful particles.
There are several simple ways to help protect your lungs and maintain better lung function throughout your life.
- Do not smoke – Smoking destroys your lungs and will worsen the effects of aging of your lungs
- Regular exercise –Regular exercise can help keep chest muscles strong and functional even in old age.
- Do not lay down for too long frequently – Lying in bed too long allows mucus and fluid to settle in your lungs, which can harm lung capacity.
- Do your possible best to avoid polluted air- including indoor and outdoor air pollutants, which can worsen any firm of lung disease
- Practice healthy living and watch your weight – Abdominal fat can impede the diaphragm's ability to fully expand the lungs. A combination of both healthy eating and exercise will double the benefit to your lungs.
- Get regular healthcare – Regular check-ups help prevent diseases, even when you are feeling well. This is especially true for lung disease, which sometimes goes undetected until it is serious.
The lung is a very delicate organ, and as such proper care should be given to it. And these aging changes happen gradually not abruptly . Your lungs have been with you since your first breath, and with a little care and caution, should be there for you for many more years.