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Vol. 56. Issue 209.
(January - March 2021)
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Vol. 56. Issue 209.
(January - March 2021)
Original Article
DOI: 10.1016/j.apunsm.2020.100339
Lung capacity and alveolar gas diffusion in aquatic athletes: Implications for performance and health
Iker Garcíaa,b,
Corresponding author

Corresponding author.
, Franchek Drobnicc, Beatriz Arrillagad, Victoria Ponsa, Ginés Viscorb
a Departament de Fisiologia i Nutrició, Centre d’Alt Rendiment (CAR), Av. Alcalde Barnils s/n, E-08173 Sant Cugat del Vallés, Barcelona, Spain
b Secció de Fisiologia, Departament de Biologia Cel·lular, Fisiologia i Immunologia, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal, 643 E-08028 Barcelona, Spain
c Shenhua Greenland FC Medical Services, Shanghai, China
d Real Federación Española de Natación, Madrid, Spain
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Figures (1)
Tables (3)
Table 1. Physiological and anthropometric parameters of the aquatic athletes studied.
Table 2. Comparison of forced spirometry pulmonary parameters in aquatic athletes from different disciplines: swimming, artistic swimming and water polo.
Table 3. Comparison of the lung diffusion and volume capacity of aquatic athletes from different disciplines: swimmers, artistic swimmers, and water polo.
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The diffusion capacity of carbon monoxide (DLCO) provides a measure of gas transfer in the lungs. Endurance training does not increase lung volumes or diffusion in land-based athletes. However swimmers have larger lungs and better diffusion capacity than other matched athletes and controls.


The aim of this study was to evaluate pulmonary alveoli-capillary diffusion and lung volumes in elite aquatic athletes, specifically swimmers, artistic swimmers and water polo players.


The participants were 64 international level aquatic athletes including 31 swimmers (11 female and 20 male), 12 artistic swimmers (only female), and 21 water polo players (10 female and 11 male). The single-breath method was used to measure DLCO and pulmonary parameters.


The main finding of this study is that DLCO is high in aquatic athletes, clearly above their reference values, both in females (33.4±9.4mLmin−1·mmHg−1; 135%) and males (48.0±5.83mLmin−1·mmHg−1; 148%). There was no difference in DLCO between female swimmers, artistic swimmers and water polo players (34.7±8.3 to 33.4±4.0 to 32.1±5.6mLmin−1·mmHg−1), but male swimmers had a higher DLCO compared to water polo players (50.4±5.3 to 43.4±7.0, p=0.014).


Aquatic athletes have larger lungs and better diffusion capacity than the percentage predicted by age and height. Therefore, swimming-based sports could help to improve pulmonary function in many different segments of the population.

Diffusing capacity
Pulmonary function
Lung diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DLCO)
Aquatic sports


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