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Breathing Exercises to Strengthen Your Lungs

Breathing Exercises to Strengthen Your Lungs Breathing Exercises to Strengthen Your Lungs

For people with respiratory conditions, breathing may not be the simple and natural process most of us take for granted. Over time, air starts to get trapped within the lungs and they can begin to lose their capacity to function properly, leading to shortness of breath. 

Respiratory conditions which can affect lung function include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. People who suffer with the sleep disorder obstructive sleep apnoea are at an increased risk of experiencing these respiratory health problems which impact on the lungs’ capacity to function properly.

There are other factors which can affect how the lungs perform, including smoking, alcohol and age. 

However, there are exercises which can improve lung efficiency and keep them strong. These exercises help to bring air from the lungs and increase oxygen levels available for day-to-day activities. 

As the world suffers from the Covid-19 pandemic, a virus which infects the respiratory system, research is ongoing to establish whether breathing exercises could aid recovery.

Before beginning any new breathing exercises, it is advisable to talk to your doctor. Those suffering with more severe respiratory conditions may need oxygen therapy instead. If your doctor feels breathing exercises could help you, then the following are three techniques to consider:

Pursed Lip Breathing

This technique helps control shortness of breath by keeping the airways open for longer periods, helping to remove air from the lungs. It allows more air to flow in and out of the lungs, slowing the pace of your breathing and allowing more control. Reducing your shortness of breath allows you to be more physically active.

First, sit upright in a comfortable chair and relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Breathe in slowly through the nose and breathe out gently through pursed lips. You should look to make the exhalation twice as long as when you inhale. A simple counting method can help with this, for example counting to 5 when breathing in and counting to 10 when breathing out.

For people who are not getting regular physical exercise, pursed lip breathing exercises may be especially beneficial. This exercise can be done for around 5 to 10 minutes each day. 

For those experiencing shortness of breath, pursed lip breathing can help you regain control of your breathing -- though ideally you will be comfortable with the exercise before first using it in this scenario. You should look to repeat the exercise until your breathing is back under control. If the shortness of breath continues you should seek medical assistance straight away.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Also called belly breathing, this exercise helps strengthen the diaphragm, a muscle which plays a key role when breathing. It is often the basis for meditation techniques - and is often used by those with COPD and asthma to get more oxygen in to their lungs, thereby slowing down breathing and making you feel calmer.

Once again, you need to feel relaxed before you begin this breathing exercise. You can sit upright in a comfortable chair or lie down on the bed, whichever you find suits you best or is more convenient. 

Now you will need to place your hand on your stomach before slowly inhaling through the nose, noting how much the stomach rises. Exhale gently out of the mouth through pursed lips, with each exhalation 2 to 3 times longer than the inhalation, which you can ensure by counting.

You can try getting the stomach to rise higher than the previous breath as you re-train the diaphragm to function fully and fill the lungs. Practising belly breathing and pursed lip breathing for around 5 to 10 minutes each day can help boost lung capacity.

Interval Training

This particular exercise will be one familiar with most runners, though it can work just as well for other forms of exercise. It may be a better option for those who experience shortness of breath while they exercise rather than continuous steady exercise. The basic aim of interval training is to alternate short bursts or periods of more strenuous exercise with periods of easier exercise or rest.

For those who enjoy walking, you may look to pick up the pace for a sharper one-minute walk before easing back to a gentle stroll for two minutes. The easier interval period should allow the lungs to recover before the next quicker period. This can be done a number of repeated times, but once again you should discuss with your doctor beforehand before starting any new exercise regime. 

If at any point you are getting short of breath, it is sensible to stop and relax until your breath is back under control. In these instances, employing the pursed lips breathing exercise may also help.

Keep Practising

Although such exercises may seem straightforward, you should keep practising them as they can take a little while to master. Ideally you will want to have been practising these exercises prior to using them when you are experiencing shortness of breath. 

At that point you should be in a position where you can better employ the techniques to slow your breathing. By maintaining your breathing exercises you help to build strength in the key areas which support and aid breathing functions.

Of course, respiratory health will also benefit from a healthy lifestyle which includes regular exercise, a healthy diet and no smoking. For those with respiratory health conditions like COPD and asthma, specialists recommend breathing exercises to assist in strengthening the lungs. 

Obstructive sleep apnoea is another disorder which may benefit from breathing exercises, similar to how playing a wind instrument has been seen to reduce symptoms. More research is required on this, as it is in trying to establish how breathing exercises might assist in recovery from covid-19.

Ultimately any changes you are considering when you have a respiratory health condition should be discussed fully with your doctor first. More information can be found  here to help you decide whether you feel you could benefit from these breathing exercises.

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Author: Helen Clarkson

About author: Helen Clarkson is a Sleep Specialist at Baywater Healthcare. Ms. Clarkson has worked with Baywater since 2008, working closely with patients in delivering sleep/bi-level services including sleep and respiratory, both in the home and clinic setting. This includes therapy initiation and troubleshooting support. Ms. Clarkson is responsible for delivering the Baywater Healthcare patient adherence management programme to ensure continuing patient therapy compliance. works in conjunction with NHS clinicians and procurement to deliver excellence in home and clinic-based services. She provides training on all aspects of sleep including devices and interfaces. Previously, Ms. Clarkson served as Respiratory Physiologist at Pontefract General Infirmary. Her position was Senior MTO for lung function/sleep department, and she was responsible for performing simple and complex sleep studies, sleep study analysis, CPAP initiation, therapy adherence and troubleshooting/service clinics, spirometry, lung volumes and transfer factor, reversibility, CPET, hyperventilation testing, EIA testing, skin prick testing, 6 min walk tests. She has also held roles as Respiratory Physiologist and Respiratory Technician, working closely with patients with respiratory disorders -- including ex-miners. Ms. Clarkson has a BSc (Honors) in Applied biology from University of Staffordshire. She also studied Developments in Sleep Medicine (advanced course) at St. Thomas’ Hospital, and took the Edinburgh Sleep Medicine course. She completed the BSS: Advanced sleep course and the ARTP NIV Course.

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