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Average Lung Capacity by Age: How It Changes and What You Can Do

Medically reviewed by Michael Henry Wanat · Respiratory Therapy

Written by Hazel Caingcoy · Updated Apr 20, 2022

Average Lung Capacity by Age: How It Changes and What You Can Do

How does ageing affect our lung capacity? Average lung capacity by age changes over time. Around the age of 20-25, your lungs are fully mature. When you reach about 35, you will begin to experience a gradual decline in lung function. The older you get, the more difficult it is to breathe.

As you age, your lung function may decline due to several natural changes in your body. The diaphragm, for example, can weaken with age. As your lungs age, the tissue that keeps your airways open can lose its elasticity, which reduces the size of your airways. You can also lose the space that you need for your lungs to expand when your ribs get smaller.

Lung Capacity

Total lung capacity, also known as TLC, is the quantity of air that can be contained in the lungs. Adults with healthy lungs have a capacity of approximately 6 liters.

The capacity of a person’s lungs increases rapidly from birth, through adolescence, and plateaus around the age of 25. The capacity of your lungs starts to deteriorate around the age of 35, which can make breathing increasingly difficult over time.

A person’s average lung capacity by age is affected by gender, body composition, and ethnicity. For example, compared to women, males tend to have more TLC. Additionally, taller individuals tend to have a higher TLC than shorter individuals.

Infections and some diseases of the lungs (like bronchitis and asthma) can affect average lung capacity. Other conditions may affect average lung capacity, including:

  • Being extremely overweight
  • Scarring in the lung tissues, muscle weakness
  • Scleroderma

Aging and Its Effects on the Lungs 

Changes in the body can affect average lung capacity by age. While these changes generally occur because of aging, it is important to note that every individual is different. Changes caused by aging may or may not have a significant effect, depending on chronic illnesses, disease, and many other factors. Here are some of the changes a person faces as they get older:

Physical Changes

Average lung capacity by age decreases due to physiological changes. A person’s bones change shape and become thinner as they age. In severe cases, this will reduce oxygen levels in the body and increase carbon dioxide levels.

When there is too much carbon dioxide in the body, this can result in symptoms such as fatigue and breathlessness.

As a person ages, in general, muscles and tissues around the airway structures become weak. In rare cases, this can cause the airways to close too quickly.

In addition, the tiny air sacs that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the lungs (alveoli) become distorted and are unable to function properly in the worst cases. When this happens, the lungs can no longer exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide effectively.

Nervous System Changes

Average lung capacity by age decreases because some parts of the brain that control breathing won’t be as effective as it was before. This can result in insufficient oxygen reaching your lungs. The lungs may not be able to exhale enough carbon dioxide as well. In such cases, a person experiences difficulty in breathing, and tiredness.

As you age, your airways become less sensitive to triggers, making it difficult to cough up any germs, smoke, or particles in the lungs. Because of this, an accumulation of particles and even bacteria may reside in the lungs.

Immune System Changes

Average lung capacity by age is also affected by the immune system. You may become more susceptible to infections as you age. As a result, your body will have a much harder time fighting off bacteria and viruses that can cause lung infections and other illnesses.

Additionally, your lungs will have a harder time recovering from any lung infection or disease.

Average Lung Capacity by Age: Keeping Your Lungs Healthy

The aging of your lungs is inevitable, but there are things that you can do to minimize its effects and maintain a good average lung capacity by age. The simplest way to do this is to protect your lungs. You can protect your lungs by following these tips:

Do Not Smoke 

Smoking damages lung tissue, preventing them from functioning properly. In addition to lung diseases, smoking can also cause lung cancer.

Exercise Regularly

Keeping chest muscles strong requires regular exercise. Blood flow increases to your lungs during exercise, thus allowing you to take in more oxygen through your lungs.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Fat in the abdomen can prevent the diaphragm from fully expanding the lungs, which results in breathing difficulties. By maintaining a healthy weight, you keep your lungs healthy and prevent yourself from developing other conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

Breathe in Fresh Air

Your lungs can be damaged by pollutants both indoors and outdoors. The combination of secondhand smoke, air pollution outside, chemicals in our homes and workplaces can cause or even worsen lung disease.

Don’t Stay in Bed Too Long 

Mucus and fluid can build up in your lungs as a result of lying in bed too long.

Have an Annual Check-Up 

The prevention of any disease begins with regular visits to your doctor, even when you feel healthy. A serious lung problem may go undetected for years, so it’s best to visit your doctor at least once a year to make sure you are not developing any lung diseases.

Get Vaccinated

Get an annual flu shot. Ask your doctor if you can also be vaccinated for other viruses that can have a harmful effect on your respiratory system.

Key Takeaway

Lung capacity and function may decrease as a person ages. This can be due to changes in the physiological aspects of the body, as well as changes in the nervous system and immune system. Despite the changes a person faces as they age, they can still maintain good average lung capacity by exercising, maintaining a good weight, breathing fresh air, and getting vaccinated.

Learn about Other Respiratory Issues here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Michael Henry Wanat

Respiratory Therapy

Written by Hazel Caingcoy · Updated Apr 20, 2022

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