Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a health condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe well. It’s often associated with other conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and large amounts of mucus that collect in the lungs.
Symptoms can worsen with time, so it can be helpful to practice breathing exercises to manage them. When you practice regularly, breathing exercises can help you not only exert yourself less during daily activities but also potentially return to exercising. This can help you feel more energetic. We found five exercises that can be especially useful for those with COPD.
Pursed Lip Breathing
According to the Cleveland Clinic, pursed lip breathing has been shown to reduce how hard a person has to work to breathe, helps release air trapped in the lungs, promotes relaxation, and reduces shortness of breath. Practicing this technique four to five 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 two. Follow this pattern by repeating in your head “inhale, one, two.” 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 four. Don’t try to force the air out, but instead breathe out slowly.
Pursed-lip breathing is best for performing strenuous activities, such as climbing stairs.
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 during the most strenuous part of the exercise. An example could be when curling upward on a bicep curl.
Coordinated breathing can be performed when you’re exercising or feeling anxious.
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.
Hold your breath as you count to five.
Release the air via a slow, deep exhale until you feel your inhaled air has been released.
It’s best to do this exercise with other daily breathing exercises that can be performed for 10 minutes at a time, three to four times per day.
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:
While in a comfortable seated position, inhale slightly deeper than you would when taking a normal breath.
Activate your stomach muscles to blow out the air in three even breaths while making the sounds “ha, ha, ha.” Imagine you are blowing onto a mirror to cause it to steam.
A huff cough should be less tiring than a traditional cough, and it can keep you from feeling worn out when coughing up mucus.
The diaphragm is an important muscle involved in the work of breathing. Those with COPD tend to rely more on the accessory muscles of the neck, shoulders, and back to breathe 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 two seconds, feeling your stomach move outward. You’re doing the activity correctly if your stomach moves more than your chest does.
Purse your lips and breathe out slowly, pressing lightly on your stomach. This will enhance your diaphragm’s ability to release air.
Repeat the exercise as you are able.
This technique can be more complicated than the other exercises, so this technique is best for a person with a little more practice under their belt. If you’re having difficulty, talk to your doctor or respiratory therapist.
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.