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Breathing Exercises with COPD

Overview

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a health condition that affects an individual’s ability to breathe well. It’s often associated with other conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and large amounts of mucus that collect in the lungs.

Symptoms can worsen with time, but practicing breathing exercises can help you to manage them. When you practice regularly, breathing exercises can help you to exert yourself less during daily activities. They can also potentially aid in your return to exercising, which can lead to you feeling more energetic overall. Read on to learn about these five exercises that can be especially useful for people with COPD:

  • pursed lip breathing
  • coordinated breathing
  • deep breathing
  • huff cough
  • diaphragmatic breathing
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1. Pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing

breathing exercisesbreathing exercises

According to the Cleveland Clinic, pursed lip breathing has a range of benefits:

  • It’s been shown to reduce how hard a person has to work to breathe.
  • It helps release air trapped in the lungs.
  • It promotes relaxation.
  • It reduces shortness of breath.

Practicing this technique 4 to 5 times daily can help. Here’s how to practice pursed lip breathing:

  • While keeping your mouth closed, take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to 2. Follow this pattern by repeating in your head “inhale, 1, 2.” The breath does not have to be deep. A typical inhale will do.
  • Put your lips together as if you are starting to whistle or blow out candles on a birthday cake. This is known as “pursing” your lips.
  • While continuing to keep your lips pursed, slowly breathe out by counting to 4. Don’t try to force the air out, but instead breathe out slowly through your mouth.

Exercise tip: Pursed lip breathing is best for performing strenuous activities, such as climbing stairs.

2. Coordinated breathing

Coordinated breathing

breathing exercisesbreathing exercises

Feeling short of breath can cause anxiety that makes you hold your breath. To prevent this from occurring, you can practice coordinated breathing using these two steps:

  • Inhale through your nose before beginning an exercise.
  • While pursing your lips, breathe out through your mouth during the most strenuous part of the exercise. An example could be when curling upward on a bicep curl.

Exercise tip: Coordinated breathing can be performed when you’re exercising or feeling anxious.

Learn more: COPD and anxiety »

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3. Deep breathing

Deep breathing

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Deep breathing prevents air from getting trapped in your lungs, which can cause you to feel short of breath. As a result, you can breathe in more fresh air. Here’s how to practice deep breathing:

  • Sit or stand with your elbows slightly back. This allows your chest to expand more fully.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose.
  • Hold your breath as you count to 5.
  • Release the air via a slow, deep exhale, through your nose, until you feel your inhaled air has been released.

Exercise tip: It’s best to do this exercise with other daily breathing exercises that can be performed for 10 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times per day.

4. Huff cough

Huff cough

breathing exercisesbreathing exercises

When you have COPD, mucus can build up more easily in your lungs. The huff cough is a breathing exercise designed to help you cough up mucus effectively without making you feel too tired. Here’s how to practice the huff cough:

  • Place yourself in a comfortable seated position. Inhale through your mouth, slightly deeper than you would when taking a normal breath.
  • Activate your stomach muscles to blow the air out in three even breaths while making the sounds “ha, ha, ha.” Imagine you are blowing onto a mirror to cause it to steam.

Exercise tip: A huff cough should be less tiring than a traditional cough, and it can keep you from feeling worn out when coughing up mucus.

Learn more: COPD cough treatment »

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5. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing

breathing exercisesbreathing exercises

The diaphragm is an important muscle involved in the work of breathing. People with COPD tend to rely more on the accessory muscles of the neck, shoulders, and back to breathe, rather than on the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing helps to retrain this muscle to work more effectively. Here’s how to do it:

  • While sitting or lying down with your shoulders relaxed, put a hand on your chest and place the other hand on your stomach.
  • Take a breath in through your nose for 2 seconds, feeling your stomach move outward. You’re doing the activity correctly if your stomach moves more than your chest.
  • Purse your lips and breathe out slowly through your mouth, pressing lightly on your stomach. This will enhance your diaphragm’s ability to release air.
  • Repeat the exercise as you are able to.

Exercise tip: This technique can be more complicated than the other exercises, so it’s best for a person with a little more practice under their belt. If you’re having difficulty, talk to your doctor or respiratory therapist.

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Conclusion

Conclusion

According to American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), those with COPD who use breathing exercises experience greater improvements in exercise capacity than those who do not. The AAFP says that other potential benefits include reduced shortness of breath and improved quality of life.

People with COPD can experience panic attacks at a higher rate than the general public. To help with panic attacks, an individual with COPD can try breathing techniques, meditation, distraction techniques, or counseling services. One breathing technique that can be helpful is pursed lip breathing. With pursed lip breathing, you inhale through your mouth and exhale through your mouth. This technique can be relaxing during panic attacks.
– Alana Biggers, MD
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