Certain exercises can help improve lung capacity. This can reduce shortness of breath when lung capacity is limited. The lungs allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is essential for the proper functioning of the body.
Age, smoking, pollution and other factors can reduce the efficiency of lung function. Some health conditions can restrict lung capacity, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Alone, one may not be able to alter the amount of oxygen one’s lungs can hold. However, breathing exercises can help reduce shortness of breath caused by limited lung function.
This article looks at three exercises that can help reduce shortness of breath in people with chronic lung disease or respiratory infections.
Lip breathing to improve lung capacity
Breathing exercises can help improve a person’s lung capacity. Breathing through the lips can help keep the airways open longer, facilitating the flow of air in and out of the lungs.
To do pursed-lip breathing:
Sit up straight: Good posture can help promote lung movement.
Inhale deeply through your nose, slowly and in a controlled manner.
Purse the lips: they should almost touch, as if to kiss someone
Exhale through pursed lips: ideally the exhale should be twice as long as the inhale.
Some people find it particularly beneficial to focus on time. For example by inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 10 seconds. It may be helpful to keep a watch that shows seconds nearby.
For people who are not very physically active and may not exercise their respiratory muscles frequently, pursed-lip breathing may have particular benefits.
Belly breathing to improve lung capacity
This exercise improves the rate of expansion and contraction of the lungs. Abdominal breathing focuses specifically on strengthening the diaphragm muscle, which allows a person to take a deep breath.
To do the exercise:
Place a hand or a light object on your stomach.
Inhale slowly through your nose, and notice how the stomach rises.
Exhale through your mouth.
Inhale through your nose, this time trying to raise your stomach higher than the previous breath.
Exhale, and try to make each exhale two or three times longer than each inhale.
Periodically roll the shoulders back and forth and move the head side to side to make sure the exercise is not contributing to upper body tension.
To improve lung function, practice belly breathing and pursed-lip breathing for about 5-10 minutes each day.
If you experience shortness of breath or shortness of breath during exercise, interval training may be a better alternative to regular exercise. Interval training consists of alternating between short periods of more or less intense exercise. For example, one could try walking at a very fast pace for 1 minute, then walking slower for 2 minutes, in one cycle. Similarly, one can perform a strength-training activity for 1 minute, such as squats or lunges biceps, then walk at a gentle pace for 2-3 minutes.
Interval training gives the lungs time to recover before putting pressure on them again.
Whenever exercise causes shortness of breath, it’s a good idea to slow down for a few minutes. It may help to practice pursed-lip breathing until the shortness of breath subsides.
Tips for Maintaining Lung Health
Exercises cannot reverse damage to the lungs. But they can help a person use their lungs to their fullest capacity.
There are other ways to improve and maintain lung health, such as:
refrain from smoking
to drink a lot of water
stay physically active
If a person has symptoms of poor lung health, such as shortness of breath during daily activities, pain when breathing, or a cough that does not go away, they should contact a doctor.
The sooner a person is treated for their lung problems, the better the outcome will be.
When are breathing exercises effective?
Just as aerobic exercise helps improve heart health, breathing exercises can help the lungs work more efficiently.
Pulmonologists recommend breathing exercises for people with COPD and asthma because they help maintain lung strength. A person should do these exercises when they feel their lungs are healthy, to build strength, and continue the techniques if they feel short of breath.
Deep breathing exercises can help increase lung capacity. For example, deep breathing can help clear mucus from the lungs after pneumonia, allowing more air to circulate. To perform this exercise: Take deep breaths 5 to 10 times, then cough heavily twice, and repeat.
While breathing exercises may be beneficial for people with mild respiratory symptoms, people with severe symptoms may need oxygen therapy or the use of a mechanical ventilator.
Anyone who is concerned about their respiratory symptoms should talk to a healthcare professional.
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