Respiratory Health And Weight

What is good respiratory health?

Every single cell in our bodies needs oxygen and the oxygen that we need comes from the air that we breathe through our lungs. It’s needless to say that good respiratory health is invaluable. Simply put, good respiratory health is when the lungs are healthy when you can inhale deeply and exhale fully. Breathing is something we often don’t think about until it becomes laboured or difficult. When someone is experiencing poor respiratory health there are clear signs and symptoms that manifest themselves. For example, wheezing or noisy breathing is a sign that something unusual is blocking your lungs' airways or making them too narrow. Let’s look at one of the reasons you could be experiencing respiratory problems.

Is maintaining a stable weight important for respiratory health?

When you have a lung condition, or even if you don’t have a lung condition, it's important to stay a healthy weight. Weight can greatly impact respiratory health in different ways. For example, if you're overweight, it can make breathing harder, and you may experience shortness of breath or wheezing. On the other hand, if you're underweight, the muscles in your lungs may be weaker and your body will have less strength to complete daily activities and fight off infections.1

Furthermore, when your body goes through an important fluctuation in weight, this can increase the strain on your lung muscles. A sudden gain in weight can cause substantial changes to the mechanics of the lungs and chest wall, these mechanical changes cause asthma or asthma-like symptoms.2 

Abdominal fat can affect the ease of breathing

The relationship between adiposity and respiratory function is poorly understood. Most studies that have investigated the relationship have used indirect measures of body fat and few have assessed how changes in adiposity influence lung function. However, a recent study has found that having high levels of abdominal fat can impact breathing.1 More specifically it can impact the ability to take deep breaths. This is because one of the major breathing muscles is the diaphragm. Your diaphragm is a sheet composed of three muscles, which separates your chest and your abdomen. When these muscles contract, it moves downward and your stomach moves outward, allowing your lungs to expand and draw air in. It has been found that the more abdominal fat that you have the harder it is for your diaphragm to contract and do its job. This further restricts the amount your lungs can expand and the amount of oxygen you can take in when you take a deep breath. This makes breathing harder than it should be. It can also lead to getting out of breath with sometimes very minimal physical effort.4

Obesity hypoventilation syndrome

Obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS), sometimes also known as Pickwickian syndrome, refers to a breathing condition that can affect some people who have been diagnosed with obesity. This condition affects people’s ability to breathe deeply enough, resulting in low oxygen levels and high blood carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.3

The symptoms of this condition most commonly include:3

  • Breathlessness
  • Daytime sleepiness, which can be aggravated if you also have sleep apnea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue, extreme tiredness, or lethargy
  • Frequent headaches

When treating this condition your doctor will suggest healthy lifestyle changes. They may also suggest using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help you sleep at night. A CPAP machine helps keep your airways open when you sleep, increasing blood oxygen levels. 


Our lungs are two of our most important organs. They keep us alive, allowing us to breathe, and for the most part, we don’t think about them. However, various factors can affect lung health and respiratory health which is why It is important to look after your lungs by doing such things as avoiding smoking or staying at a healthy weight. More specifically, weight and respiratory disorders have been increasingly linked. Healthy lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet, will help you stay at a healthy weight and can greatly improve your respiratory health.


  1. Dixon AE, Peters U. The effect of obesity on lung function. Expert Rev Respir Med. 2018;12(9):755-767.
  2. Sutherland ER. Linking obesity and asthma. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014 Apr;1311:31-41.
  3. Athayde RAB, Oliveira Filho JRB, Lorenzi Filho G, Genta PR. Obesity hypoventilation syndrome: a current review. J Bras Pneumol. 2018;44(6):510-518.
  4. Leone N, Courbon D, Thomas F, Bean K, Jégo B, Leynaert B, et al. Lung Function Impairment and Metabolic Syndrome: The Critical Role of Abdominal Obesity. Am J Respir Crit Care Med [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2023 Feb 9]; 179(6):509–16.

    Imogen Scott

    Postgraduate Degree, Neuroscience, Goldsmiths, University of London

    Imogen Scott, based in London, is deeply rooted in mental health and healthcare. Serving as an Account Executive at Silver Buck, she emphasizes digital health innovations. Previously, she showcased her commitment as a Medical Writer Intern at Klarity and supported students with special needs at Charlton Park Academy. With a Bachelor's in Psychology and an ongoing Neuroscience postgrad from Goldsmiths, Imogen is a blend of academic and professional passion in health. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
    Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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