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Does Regular Physical Exercise Increase the Vital Capacity of Lungs?

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Author: Janice VanCleave

What Effect Does Regular Physical Exercise Have on the Lungs'Vital Capacity?

Category: Biology—Zoology—Anatomy

Project Idea by: Robert Ali

Lungs are balloonlike structures in the chest that are used to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide between your blood and the atmosphere. As you inhale (breathe in), air is drawn into your lungs. As you exhale (breathe out), you expel gases from your lungs. In the lungs, oxygen from inhaled air moves into your blood (the liquid in animals that carries nutrients and oxygen to cells and takes away wastes) and is carried to the cells throughout the body to produce energy. Also in the lungs, carbon dioxide (a gaseous waste) leaves the blood and enters tubes, then is expelled when you exhale. The breathing rate of a healthy adult at rest is about 12 times a minute. A baby's breathing rate is about 24 times a minute.

Normally, you breathe through your nose. Air enters the nose and moves down the back of the pharynx (the throat), where it enters the trachea (the breathing tube). At the end of the trachea, the passage splits to form two tubes called bronchi that lead to the lungs. In the lungs, each bronchus divides many times, forming small tubes called bronchioles. At the end of each bronchiole is a balloon-shaped structure called an alviolus (air sac). The lungs contain millions of alvioli, and around each are many capillaries. A capillary is the body's smallest blood vessel. Through the capillaries, oxygen from inhaled air is transferred to the blood, and waste from the blood is transferred to the lungs before being exhaled.

What Effect Does Regular Physical Exercise Have on the Lungs'Vital Capacity?

When the lungs are filled, they can hold varying amounts of air depending on the size of the person. Tidal air is the amount of air involved during normal, relaxed inhaling and exhaling. Vital capacity of the lungs is the largest amount of air that can be exhaled after taking a deep breath. A project question might be, "What effect does regular physical exercise have on the lungs' vital capacity?"

Clues for Your Investigation

Test the vital lung capacity of several people in two groups: one group of people who are athletic and one group of people who are not athletic. People in both groups should be the same gender and age and of a similar size. Each person should stand, take a deep breath, then blow up a balloon with a single breath and tie a knot in the balloon. The sizes of the blown-up balloons will be compared to indicate vital lung capacity. Design a way to measure the size of each balloon such as measuring around the balloons with a flexible measuring tape. An increase in balloon size indicates an increase in vital lung capacity.

Independent Variable: Physical fitness

Dependent Variables: Sizes of the inflated balloons

Controlled Variables: Age, gender, and size of subject; type of balloon; position of subject (standing, sitting, etc.)

Control: Lung vital capacity with no exercise

Other Questions to Explore

  1. Does age affect vital capacity?
  2. How does the lungs' tidal volume compare to vital capacity?
  3. How does the lungs' reserve air compare to vital capacity?

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