16 May 23

Deep breathing: respiratory exercises to improve lung function

Despite what action movies taught us, for people coping with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), things are not as easy as breathing. In addition to biological factors that can lead to the loss of lung capacity – e.g. age, obesity, sedentary life or smoking – chronic lung diseases can speed up the process, with subsequent difficulties in breathing.

In order to improve and maintain lung function and lung capacity, it can be useful to perform respiratory exercises on a regular basis, considering that practice and dedication, as it often happens, bring noticeable results over time.

  1. Breathing exercises to improve lung function: pursed-lip breathing

Pursed-lip breathing is a basic exercise that can help you control shortness of breath, as it slows down your breathing by getting more air into your lung and keeping your airways open for a controlled amount of time. It is also very easy to perform for beginners and can be practiced at home whenever need.

  1. Sit down and relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose and keep your mouth shut. It can be helpful to count yourself (e.g. inhale while mentally counting up to three or four).
  3. Purse your lips, as if you are about to whistle, and slowly let the air out through them. Exhaling should take at least twice longer than inhaling – which is why it can be useful to count yourself.

The exercise can be repeated until you feel calm and your breathing feels normal.

  1. Respiratory exercises to improve lung function: diaphragmatic breathing

Also known as belly breathing – as you visually get the impression to inflate your belly like a balloon while inhaling – diaphragmatic breathing actively engages the diaphragm and helps strengthening it.

At first it may feel a little harder than pursed-lips breathing but, once understood, this technique is particularly helpful to gain consciousness of the respiratory process, improve lung capacity and calm down the body.

  1. Lie down and relax your shoulders. With time and practice, you will become able to perform the exercise while sitting or standing.
  2. Place one hand on your belly and the other one on your chest.
  3. Inhale through the nose while mentally counting to three. Focus on the incoming air flow, using your hand to feel the air move through your chest and to your abdomen: your belly should rise more than your chest.
  4. Exhale through your lips while mentally counting to three. Again, focus on the way the air moves: you can help the process by pressing your hand on your belly to push it out.

Try to dedicate about five to ten minutes to this exercise every day and notice how your lung capacity improves over time.

  1. Other tips to improve lung function and quality of breathing

Here are more suggestion to help you with your breathing:

  • Keep your body weight under control: obesity can lead to breathing difficulties.
  • Stay active: doing physical exercise on a regular basis helps you strengthen your breath.
  • Quit smoking or, if you are not a smoker, avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Avoid environmental irritants, such as dust, mold or artificial fragrances.
  • Eat healthy, particularly food rich in anti-oxidants.
  • Get vaccinations to prevent lung infections (e.g. flu vaccine, pneumonia vaccine).
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