Sport-specific influences on respiratory patterns in elite athletes

Tijana Durmic Biljana Lazovic Marina Djelic Jelena Suzic Lazic Dejan Zikic Vladimir Zugic Milica Dekleva Sanja Mazic About the authors

ABSTRACT

OBJECTIVE:

To examine differences in lung function among sports that are of a similar nature and to determine which anthropometric/demographic characteristics correlate with lung volumes and flows.

METHODS:

This was a cross-sectional study involving elite male athletes (N = 150; mean age, 21  4 years) engaging in one of four different sports, classified according to the type and intensity of exercise involved. All athletes underwent full anthropometric assessment and pulmonary function testing (spirometry).

RESULTS:

Across all age groups and sport types, the elite athletes showed spirometric values that were significantly higher than the reference values. We found that the values for FVC, FEV1, vital capacity, and maximal voluntary ventilation were higher in water polo players than in players of the other sports evaluated (p < 0.001). In addition, PEF was significantly higher in basketball players than in handball players (p < 0.001). Most anthropometric/demographic parameters correlated significantly with the spirometric parameters evaluated. We found that BMI correlated positively with all of the spirometric parameters evaluated (p < 0.001), the strongest of those correlations being between BMI and maximal voluntary ventilation (r = 0.46; p < 0.001). Conversely, the percentage of body fat correlated negatively with all of the spirometric parameters evaluated, correlating most significantly with FEV1 (r = −0.386; p < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS:

Our results suggest that the type of sport played has a significant impact on the physiological adaptation of the respiratory system. That knowledge is particularly important when athletes present with respiratory symptoms such as dyspnea, cough, and wheezing. Because sports medicine physicians use predicted (reference) values for spirometric parameters, the risk that the severity of restrictive disease or airway obstruction will be underestimated might be greater for athletes.

Keywords:
Athletes; Sports; Spirometry; Respiratory function tests

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