Breathing Exercises to Help Improve Lung Capacity
Every single breath we take is very important. It is our breath that keeps us alive. But did you know that lung capacity can diminish with age? Like most parts of our body, lung function may begin to decline and gradually decrease from our mid-20s, when our lungs reach their full development.
Lung capacity is the total amount of oxygen that our lungs can hold. As it slowly declines with age, this means that there may come a time when breathing can become especially challenging later in life. Aside from age, other factors may also contribute to the decline of our lung capacity. Pollution, smoking, and lung diseases can all contribute to reduced lung capacity and breathing difficulties.
However, certain breathing exercises provide respite from chronic lung dysfunction and certain respiratory problems.
Breathing Exercises That Can Improve Lung Capacity
Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as belly breathing. It is conducted by engaging the diaphragm, the part in our body that does most of the work to help us breathe. Diaphragmatic breathing can be done by first putting ourselves in relaxed mode while sitting down or lying down. Place one hand on the belly, and the other hand on the chest.
Inhale through the nose for two seconds (but notice how much the stomach rises) then exhale through the mouth. On the next inhalation with the nose, get the stomach to rise higher. Then exhale, making each exhalation two or three times longer than each inhalation.
To ensure that the exercise doesn’t make the upper body tenser, roll your shoulders forward, and then backward. Then move the head from side to side. This breathing exercise can be very helpful for people with COPD, as it engages and strengthens the diaphragm.
This breathing technique has the capacity to slow down our breathing, helping to reduce its work by keeping the airways open much longer. Pursed-lips breathing can make the lungs function easier, and also improve the oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange cycle.
Compared to diaphragmatic breathing, pursed-lips breathing may be easier for those who are not used to practicing breathing exercises. It is a lot easier than belly breathing and you can easily do it at home even without anyone demonstrating it to you or supervising you. It’s also easy to practice anytime, anywhere.
To practice pursed-lips breathing, inhale slowly through the nose, then purse the lips as if preparing to blow something. Then breathe out very slowly through the pursed lips; make it twice as long as when you inhaled. Then repeat.
Interval training helps the lungs whenever we are experiencing shortness of breath or breathlessness from strenuous exercise. It simply involves alternating between less strenuous exercises and quick, strenuous exercises.
In cases where breathlessness is experienced during an exercise session, it is better to conduct interval training than simply persist with the challenging exercise non-stop. In that way, interval training can help the lungs by giving them more time to recover, before subjecting them again to an intense workout, a physically-challenging activity for the lungs, which causes breathlessness.
To demonstrate how easy it is to conduct interval training when you are feeling breathless during an exercise, let’s take walking for example. Walk for 1 minute at a very fast pace, one that raises your heartbeat and causes you to feel breathless. After 1 minute, start walking slowly, but for twice as long as the fast walk you did; do it for 2 minutes this time. Then repeat the cycle. Strength training activities like bicep curls or lunges can be similarly done for a minute also, to be followed by a slow walk for 2 or 3 minutes.
Always try to slow down for a few minutes, whenever you experience breathlessness or shortness of breath during an intense workout session. Additionally, it may also help to conduct pursed lips breathing in case the breathlessness doesn’t subside.