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Are Your Lungs Race Ready? Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist Anupam Gupta, MD Discusses Lungs and Exercise


When you exercise, every part of your body is being used to perform the activity. We often think about our legs or arms, but have you ever thought about what happens to your lungs during a run? Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist, Anupam Gupta, MD, wants you to take some time and focus on your lungs. If you understand how your lungs are functioning during a workout, you can better recognize if they need a break!     

Why should you exercise?

Regular exercise can have significant positive benefits on health and well-being.  Exercise promotes weight loss, healthy heart, muscle strength and helps to improve lung capacity.  Regular physical activity, including running, can help patients with and without a lung condition.  For most adults, it is recommended that you do 30 minutes of exercise for 5 days/week.  Running, in particular, is a great way to exercise as this leaves most people moderately breathless, which helps exercise the lungs.

What happens to your lungs when you exercise?

The heart and lungs work together to provide oxygen to the muscles being exercised while running.  In general, the lungs bring oxygen into the body and remove carbon dioxide, while the heart provides oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.  During exercise, your heart rate increases.  Working muscles require increased oxygen supply from blood vessels. Due to increased amount of oxygen transport, your breathing rate also increases.  At rest, your respiratory rate is about 14 breaths per minute.  This can increase up to 32 breaths per minute during running.  If you are too breathless to talk during exercise, slow down your pace or take a pause until you feel better.  Through continued exercising and training over time, the effectiveness of your respiratory system will improve.

How can you make sure your exercise is effective?

Learning and practicing breathing exercises can also improve how effective your exercise can be.  For example, breathing deeply and slowly allows your lungs to expand as much as possible.  At the start of your run, perform gentle exercises involving the muscles you need to run as you warm up.  Improve your flexibility by stretching.  Increase your running pace gradually over time and do not be afraid to feel modestly out of breath.  At the end of your run, slow down and stretch your muscles again.  Allow your breathing to return to normal as you cool down.

How can you exercise if you have a lung condition?

When patients with lung conditions exercise, there’s always a concern that they will become short of breath.  If you have reduced lung function, you mainly use a large portion of your breathing reserve. This allows you to carry out exercises, such as running, without feeling short of breath. Running improves endurance and reduces breathlessness by increasing the amount of oxygen your body can use, which is referred to as lung capacity.  Lungs at rest and during most daily activities function at 50% of their capacity.  Although running does not improve the function of the lung, lung capacity can be improved by 5-15% through aerobic exercise.  It’s also important to reduce toxins into your lungs, such as cigarette smoke, to enhance function.

What happens if you have exercise-induced asthma?

People with high intensity exercise regimens, including running, or who exercise in certain environments with higher pollution levels, have a higher risk of developing exercise-induced asthma.  Running in an area of cold dry air can also precipitate asthma.  This type of asthma occurs when airways are blocked or tighten after exercise. If you take any type of bronchodilators using an inhaler, it’s recommended to take them 10-15 minutes before exercise to reduce exercise-induced narrowing of the airways.

When should you stop exercising?

Before starting an exercise routine, it is important to discuss with your doctor if it’s safe for you.  If you have severe asthma or COPD, you may require supplemental oxygen during exercise.  You should be aware of what symptoms to monitor while you are exercising that indicate you should stop or take a break from exercising.  If you have nausea, dizziness, persistent cough, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, or pressure in your arm please rest until you are more comfortable and call your doctor.

When it comes to running and other forms of exercise, don’t forget your lungs are a crucial part of your performance. Be sure to keep your lungs healthy to maximize their capacity and if you experience any irregular symptoms, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor to have them checked out.


Anupam Gupta, MD, earned his Medical Degree at Ross University of Medicine in Portsmouth, Dominica and completed Fellowship Training in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Elmhurst Hospital Center at Ichan School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, NY. He completed his Residency in Internal Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY and is Board Certified in Pulmonary Disease. Dr. Gupta’s clinical interests include: asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Lung Disease (COPD), Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD), and Pleural Disease and he is seeing patients in our Monroe and West Nyack locations.