John Hutchinson (1811-1861), a surgeon, invented the spirometer. He coined the term, vital capacity, i.e., the capacity for life. John Hutchinson was a very precise man and a violinist of some reputation. His exacting observations allowed him to learn that the vital capacity was directly related to height and inversely related to age. In his first paper published in 1846 he reported on measurements in 2,130 individuals, including deceased patients (On the capacity of the lungs and on the respiratory function with a view of establishing a precise and easy method of detecting disease by the spirometer. Med Chir Tr London 1846;29:137). He recognized that reductions in vital capacity predicted premature morbidity and mortality.
Hutchinson became a consultant to the insurance industry of London. He recommended that the vital capacity should be used in actuarial predictions. Hutchinson=s invention was initially acclaimed. AWe have no hesitation in recording our deliberate opinion, that it forms one of the most valuable contributions to physiological science that we have seen for some time. In all future But Hutchinson=s instrument was not widely accepted in London or anywhere else and still remains absent from most physicians= offices and clinics. Since this is so, it is reasonable to conclude that John Hutchinson was frustrated when he left his wife and three children and emigrated to Australia at age 41. At this time, he abandoned all further scientific study of his device. Toward the end of his life, he moved to Fiji where he died at age 50, possibly from tuberculosis. The British Thoracic Society and The Thoracic Society of Australia erected a monument to the memory of John Hutchinson in 1980.
The Spirometer and attached flow head function together as a pneumotachometer, with an output signal proportional to airflow.
In 1980, it was reported that the vital capacity was a powerful prognostic indicator in the Framingham study of 5,209 men over the age of 30. This simple office procedure is a useful predictor of pulmonary disease and cardiac failure and can effectively select groups of persons destined for premature death. Since the vital capacity predicts cardiovascular as well as non-cardiovascular mortality, this pulmonary function measurement seems truly a measure of living capacity useful for insurance and underwriting purposes. (Kannel W.B., et al. The value of measuring vital capacity for prognostic purposes. Trans Am Life Ins Med Dir of Am 1980;64:66).While not widely publicized, perhaps due to low profit potential, clinical studies with thousands of participants, provide strong evidence that the most significant factor in health and longevity is how well you breathe. The famous Framingham Heart Study, for example, focused on the long-term predictive power of vital capacity and forced exhalation volume as the primary markers for life span.
According to researchers Helen Hubert and William B. Kannel of Boston School of Medicine (1981), "This pulmonary function measurement appears to be an indicator of general health and vigor, and literally a measure of living capacity". These researchers could predict how long a person was going to live by measuring how well s/he breathes. The study concluded that vital capacity declined at the rate of 9% to 27% per decade, depending on age, sex and the time the test was given
A 5200 clinical study group – observed over a 30 year span showed that pulmonary function measurement is an indicator of general health and vigor and the primary measure of potential life span. Lung volumes (FEV1) is the primary marker for how long you will live. Vital capacity falls with age – 9 to 27% each decade depending on sex and age at the time the test is given. The long term prediction power of vital capacity is what makes it a good candidate as a marker of aging. Long before a person becomes terminally ill, vital capacity can predict life span. A person whose vital capacity is low is not going to do as well as someone whose is always high. It can pick out people who are going to die 10, 20, 30 years from now. (Science News, vol.120, 1981 p.74)
Twenty-nine years after the Framingham study, the same conclusions prevail. Lung Function May Predict Long Life Or Early Death How well your lungs function may predict how long you live. This finding is the result of a nearly 30-year follow-up of the association between impaired pulmonary function and all causes of mortality, conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo. The purpose of the current study was to investigate the association between pulmonary function and mortality for periods that extended past 25 years, the limit of previous studies. Dr. Schanemann and colleagues also wanted to determine for how long pulmonary function is a significant predictor of mortality.
Results showed that lung function was a significant predictor of longevity in the whole group for the full 29 years of follow-up. "It is important to note that the risk of death was increased for participants with moderately impaired lung function, not merely those in the lowest quintile," Dr. Schanemann said. "This suggests that the increased risk isn't confined to a small fraction of the population with severely impaired lung function."
The reasons lung function may predict mortality are not clear, Dr. Schunemann said, noting that increased risk is found in persons who never smoked, as well as among smokers. "The lung is a primary defense organism against environmental toxins. It could be that impaired pulmonary function could lead to decreased tolerance against these toxins. Researchers also have speculated that decreased pulmonary function could underlie an increase in oxidative stress from free radicals, and we know that oxidative stress plays a role in the development of many diseases."
Dr. Schanemann said the fact that a relationship does exists between lung function and risk of death should motivate physicians to screen patients for pulmonary function, even if more research is needed to determine why. "It is surprising that this simple measurement has not gained more importance as a general health assessment tool," he noted.
Schunemann HJ, Dorn J, Grant BJB, Winkelstein W, Jr., Trevisan M. Pulmonary Function Is a Long-term Predictor of Mortality in the General Population 29-Year Follow-up of the Buffalo Health Study. Chest 2000;118(3)656-664.