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Lung Capacity: What Does it Mean?

3 May 2017
| Under COPD, Lung Disease, Medical | Posted by | 6 Comments
Lung Capacity: What Does It Mean?

For those of us with chronic pulmonary conditions, we may frequently hear our doctors and other people refer to our lung capacity. With all of the terminology that gets thrown around with a medical condition, sometimes it can be confusing breaking everything down. In this post, we’re going to take a look at what lung capacity is, how it’s affected by pulmonary diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis, and what you can do to increase your lung capacity.

What is Lung Capacity?

Total lung capacity, or TLC, refers to the maximum amount of air that your lungs can hold. Typically, men have a greater lung capacity than women. At rest a man’s lungs can hold about 1.5 pints of air, while women’s lungs can hold around 0.6 to 0.8 pints. However, most of us do not use our full lung capacity.

According to Jonathan P. Parsons, M.D., professor of internal medicine, associate director of Clinical Services and director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the Ohio State University Asthma Center, “The lungs are over-engineered to accomplish the job that we ask them to do. In healthy people without chronic lung disease, even at maximum exercise intensity, we only use 70 percent of the possible lung capacity.”

Why is Lung Capacity Important?

Lung capacity predicts health and longevity. A 29-year study published in Chest concluded that lung capacity is a long-term predictor of respiratory mortality, and should be used as a tool for general health assessment. Because of this, people with chronic pulmonary conditions should pay particular care to monitoring lung capacity. Taking spirometry tests is a good way to measure lung function . A spirometry test takes several measures, such as how much air you can exhale in one second, called an FEV1 score, or forced expiratory volume in 1 second.

Our lung capacity naturally declines with age, starting at age 30. By the age of 50, our lung capacity may be reduced by as much as 50 percent. This means that the older you get, the harder it is for your lungs to breathe in and hold air. When we breathe in less oxygen, our body and cells also receive less oxygen, forcing our heart to work harder to pump oxygen throughout the body. The heart working overtime long-term can lead to heart failure. Earlier symptoms of reduced lung capacity include shortness of breath, decreased stamina and reduced endurance and frequent respiratory infections.

How is Lung Capacity Affected by COPD?

COPD affects the quantity of air that can move in and out of your lungs. The more advanced the COPD is, the harder it is for your lungs to breathe in and to exhale air. The more severe the stage of COPD, the lower the lung capacity and function. However, lung capacity and lung function are not the same.

While lung capacity refers to the maximum amount of air that your lungs are able to hold, lung function refers to how quickly you can inhale and exhale air from your lungs and also how effectively your lungs both oxygenate and remove carbon dioxide from your blood. Both lung capacity and lung function are affected by the various stages of COPD.

There are four stages of COPD: mild, moderate, severe and very severe. Here is a breakdown of the different stages of COPD based on FEV1 score:

  • Mild COPD: 80 percent or higher
  • Moderate COPD: 50-70 percent
  • Severe COPD: 30 to 49 percent
  • Very Severe COPD: Less than 30 percent

Can I Improve my Lung Capacity?

Yes! Lung function cannot be improved; however, lung capacity may be improved. Remember to always follow the advice and guidance of your doctor. Here are five easy steps for increasing lung capacity, adapted from a recent blog post that may help:

Take more Vitamin D. Some studies show that of those who increase their intake of Vitamin D in conjunction with standard rehabilitation, many show improvement in their ability to exercise and in respiratory strength. Vitamin D helps reduce inflammation, which is a key issue for people with COPD.

Increase your Self-Confidence. Several people with COPD participated in an exercise study, which found that those who underwent a confidence boosting program before starting the exercise routine experienced better results. Exercise is essential for people, and taking that one step further, having self-confidence improves your ability to exercise.

Keep a Clean Home. Dust and other allergens can cause more frequent flare-ups. Support your lungs by keeping your home as clean as possible. Consider removing items that collect dust from your home, such as curtains and tablecloths. Wash your sheets at high temperatures, and dust and vacuum regularly. Indoor air purifiers are another great way to improve the quality of air inside of your home.

Lung Capacity: What Does It Mean?

Exercise more. Each time you exercise, you improve your exercise tolerance level. Start slow, and be sure to check with your primary care physician before starting a new exercise regime. Simply walking in place while watching TV or walking around the block is a great place to start.

Practice breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are a great way to help your lungs. Start in a relaxed posture, so you’re able to breathe in and out more easily. Read Best Breathing Exercises for COPD for some great breathing techniques to try out.

Please comment below and let us know what has helped you, or if you have any questions about what you can do to support your lung health. To learn more about stem cell therapy for COPD and other lung diseases, contact us at (800) 729-3065 to learn more.


  1. Lung Institute

    2 months ago


    Thank you for your comment and question. We have treated many patients at all stages of lung disease and had successful results. We do require you to quit smoking if you want our stem cell treatment.

    We’re happy to answer your questions about stem cell therapy for chronic lung diseases. We have a dedicated medical team who have a wealth of knowledge about stem cells, treatment options, candidacy, cost and more. So, feel free to give us a call at (855) 313-1149. We look forward to hearing from you soon.


    The Lung Institute

  2. Deborah

    2 months ago

    I am a 60 year old women I have smoked for 48 years I have just had my lung capacity checked and it was 139%? My doctor has me down as having copd and my lung function was 79% I have had numerous scans and have been told I have bulla /fibrosis but apparently it is old scarring can stem cell treatment help with my condition. Mrs Beale

  3. Lung Institute

    2 months ago


    Thank you for your comment and we are sorry to hear about your condition. We have treated people at all stages of lung disease and would be happy to discuss your situation.

    The best way to do that is by giving us a call and speaking one-on-one with someone on our medical team over our secure phone line. We’re happy to answer your questions about stem cells, treatment options, candidacy and cost. So, feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149. We look forward to hearing from you soon.


    The Lung Institute

  4. Mike Logan

    2 months ago

    2012 my lung capacity was 12 percent, I QUIT SMOKING 2 MONTHS AGO, very limiled on what i can do.

  5. Lung Institute

    2 months ago


    Thank you for your comment and question. We encourage people who have lung diseases to try natural remedies if they can. We have written a number of blog articles discussing breathing techniques and exercises. What you are doing is actually called a FEV1 test. Patients use a special machine that measures the amount of air expelled in one second to see if their lungs are at full capacity or not.

    We’re happy to answer your questions about stem cell treatment, so feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149 to speak one-on-one with one of our patient coordinators. We look forward to hearing from you soon.


    The Lung Institute

  6. Glynis hulin

    2 months ago

    When I was a small child I had to go to the school clinic and there we had to blow rolled up news paper and blow it as hard as we could. Could this be brought into a routine as a excersice at home.

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