Normal changes in the lungs occur as an individual ages.
The main job of the lungs is to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. As a person inhales, the air travels through a series of airways that branch out into smaller and smaller passages. These airways end at small sacs called alveoli. Tiny blood vessels that surround the alveoli take in the oxygen and exchange it for carbon dioxide.
The lungs are constantly exposed to particles in the air, some of which can be damaging. These include smoke, dust, pollen, and bacteria. The lungs help protect the body from many of these particles by filtering them out before they go any further into the body.
In order to take in and expel large amounts of air, the lungs must stay elastic or able to stretch easily. As a person ages, the lungs become stiffer and less elastic. This can limit the ability of the lungs to expand and take in as much air as they did in younger days. There are also fewer alveoli and tiny blood vessels around the lungs, making air exchange more difficult.
Other changes that occur with aging include: a cough reflex that is slower and less forcefula decrease in the number of cilia, the protective hairs that line the airwayan increase in the amount of mucus produced, which can block the airwaysincreased risk of infections, such as flu, pneumonia, and acute bronchitisincreased risk for lung cancer limited expansion of the lungs due to bone changes in the spineweakening of the muscles involved in breathing
A person can help keep his or her lungs healthy and lessen the effects of aging by: avoiding exposure to others with colds or signs of respiratory infectionavoiding smoking and secondhand smokeavoiding exposure to asbestos, excessive dust and other material potentially damaging the the lungsengaging in regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, or swimming at least 3 times per week for 30 minutesavoiding severe obesity, which can limit respiratory functionfollowing the healthcare professional's recommendations for pneumonia vaccine and flu shotsseeking medical care early for signs of respiratory infection