Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is thought to afflict up to 24 million Americans, making it the third-leading cause of disease and death in the U.S.
But if you’ve been following my advice about sensible exercise, you won’t have to worry about being one of these statistics with failing lung health in older age. In fact, as I’ll explain in a moment, a new study found that physical fitness at midlife plays a big part in determining your lung health later in life.
Ignoring the science for decades
Over the last few decades, mainstream medicine has blamed virtually all lung disease, including COPD, almost exclusively on smoking. And “natural know-it-alls” hardly spend any time at all talking about lung disease. So, as usual, there’s a lot more to the story than what you’ve been told.
For one, we need to study the heart and the lungs together as part of one cardio-pulmonary system. My medical school professors at the University of Pennsylvania—Domingo M. Aviado (pharmacology) and Alfred E. Fishman (physiology)—pioneered the medical science of looking at the heart and lungs together. And I worked closely with both of them during my many years at Penn.
Thankfully, new medical research is now beginning to catch up to my professors’ work from 40 years ago…
Good cardiorespiratory fitness at midlife protects against COPD
For the new analysis, Dutch researchers followed more than 5,000 healthy, middle-aged men from the Copenhagen Male Study for up to 46 years.
At the study’s outset, the researchers measured cardiorespiratory function and fitness—and categorized it as low, normal, or high—using a test called “WO2 maximum.” Basically, this test measures the body’s ability to use oxygen from the lungs during exercise.
It turns out, men with normal cardiorespiratory fitness during midlife had a 21 percent lower risk of getting COPD later in life compared to men with low lung fitness at the study’s outset. Men with high fitness at the outset had a 31 percent lower risk.
And it gets better…
The men with normal fitness at midlife had a 35 percent lower risk of dying later in life from COPD compared to men with low fitness. And men with high fitness at midlife had a whopping 62 percent lower risk of dying of COPD later in life. High cardiorespiratory fitness at middle age was also associated with a delay in diagnosis and death from chronic lung disease of 1.5 to 2.0 years.
Bottom line? Physical activity in middle age is important. It boosts lung capacity and fitness in the short term. And it prevents and/or delays the development, progression, and death from chronic lung diseases in the long term.
So, if you’ve been following my advice about moderate exercise all these years, this is great news for you! And if you’ve been slacking, all it takes is just 2.5 hours per week of moderate exercise (like walking, hiking, swimming, or gardening) to prevent chronic disease and death. (Anything more is just excessive exercise—or what I like to call “excess-ercise”—which can ultimately harm your heart and your joints, and other organs.)
Smoking isn’t the main culprit of all lung diseases after all
So now that you’ve started moving, let’s look at one more finding before I go…
Interestingly, 70 percent of the new study’s participants were smokers. (Remember, the study began in the 1970s, when smoking wasn’t vilified as it is now as the “end-all and be-all” of all disease. Especially lung disease.) And—smoking rates were actually higher among men with higher lung fitness. Which means these smokers also had lower COPD risk!
As I said at the very beginning of this Dispatch, there’s a lot more to lung health than just smoking. And there are many additional ways to strengthen your lungs and protect yourself from lung disease than simply quitting smoking. In fact, I’m thrilled to share with you the science-backed, natural ways to prevent and reverse lung disease in my brand-new lung health protocol. This innovative learning tool will be available to you later this year, so stay tuned! Once it’s ready, you’ll be the first to know.
P.S. For more simple, common-sense strategies for staying vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, and beyond, check out my Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” This innovative online learning protocol is full of dietary, lifestyle, and supplement recommendations to help you live better, for longer. Click here to learn more or to sign up today!
“Midlife cardiorespiratory fitness and the long-term risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” Thorax 2019;74(9):843-848. https://doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2018-212821