Published on October 24, 2020
If you are overweight or obese, regardless of age, or whether there’s a history of smoking, having excess abdominal weight lowers your lung function. The chronic inflammation associated with fat tissue is one factor; the other is that excess fat also constricts the lungs, reduces lung function and weakens the muscles that help you breathe. (This is why diseases like asthma—and many people with COPD have asthma too—tend to be more severe in heavier individuals.)
For each inch of fat that you put on, the body must lay down about a mile of tiny blood vessels called capillaries to supply the fat cells with blood. This means there’s more demand for oxygen in the body. (More oxygen must be moved around for the excess tissues; this causes the heart to work harder and places a greater burden on the cardiovascular system.) The lungs must meet the demand. The weight of the fat on the chest wall decreases the amount of room for the lungs. It also pushes up on the diaphragm, restricting its movement, particularly when bending over or lying down.
And to clarify about the diaphragm:
Additionally, to the list of insidious places where fat can accumulate, we can now add: in your lungs. In 2019, an Australian research team showed for the first time that fat can accumulate in the airway walls of the lungs. The amount of fat accumulation was higher among people who were overweight or obese, compared with those of normal weight.
Fat amasses in lungs of obese people, blocking airways.
Let’s face it: Carrying around extra weight is work . . . and the more you weigh, the more work it is to carry it around! If, for example, you’re 50 pounds overweight, try imagining carrying a backpack around all day, for all your activities. For someone who has a reduced capacity, the extra weight would be like carrying suitcases, not backpacks.
Excess weight is not good for your health any way you look at it. But when you are overweight or obese and your lung health has been negatively affected, it might be time to address both concerns. The sooner you do something about it the better, because it’s going to shorten your life one way or another.