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Lung function, physical training and altitude

A high level of habitual activity stimulates lung growth during childhood through growth hormone, which stimulates tissue development through insulin growth factors. In subjects with highly developed shoulder muscles (weight lifting, rowing, and archery) accessory respiratory muscles can better lift the thorax; on that account total lung capacity and vital capacity are increased. The FEV1 is not affected, so that the FEV1/VC ratio in such subjects is relatively low. In general athletes have ‘normal’ spirometric indices for age and standing height, but they tend to choose an athletic sport which best fits their physique. Elite athletes, however, have higher spirometric values than their peers, particularly if engaged in water based sports such as water polo.

People born and raised at altitude (> 3000 m) are shorter with a shorter relative leg length, have a lower body mass but larger thorax sizes and larger lung volumes than those at low altitude; the latter has been attributed to developmental and/or genetic effects on thorax growth in a hypoxic environment. Socioeconomic conditions at these high altitudes are not optimal and are often associated with undernutrition. Stunted growth in Tibetan children was associated with 22-24% lower FEV1 and FVC.

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