Breathing and respiratory problems affect millions of people all over the world. And since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring the respiratory system is healthy has become a top concern for many people.
Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of respiratory conditions. This can be caused by several things. For example, people who suffer from seasonal allergies may struggle breathing when their symptoms flare up. Asthma is common in people affected by allergies and can have the same effect.
Pulmonary diseases like COPD also interfere with the lungs ability to function normally. And people recovering from pneumonia can experience shortness of breath for several weeks.
Then there are conditions affecting the upper airways, such as obstructive sleep apnea, which causes breathing difficulties while we sleep.
Shortness of breath and breathing problems can also be caused by lifestyle choices. Harmful habits like smoking have long been known to reduce our lungs’ capacity over time. And the same can be said of being exposed to environmental pollution.
Last not but least, you should also bear in mind that our lungs become less efficient as we age. Although we cannot always change the amount of oxygen that’s held by our lungs, there are exercises we can do to improve our breathing capacity.
Physical exercise -- like walking -- is a perfect way to start building lung function. You can also do breathing exercises to boost your lung power.
Breathing exercises that build lung function
This exercise is effective against shortness of breath and can also be used whenever you feel stressed or anxious.
Draw your shoulders back to give your chest more breathing room. Take 5 to 10 long deep breaths through the nose. Then, cough strongly. You can repeat this sequence for a stronger effect.
Pursed lip breathing
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who haven’t been physically active for a while, either because of disease of because of their lifestyle. Pursed lip breathing is done in two stages:
- 1. Inhale: Sit up straight and take a deep breath through your nose as slowly as you can. The key here is to control your breathing as you take air in.
- 2. Exhale: Purse your lips together and let the air out through your lips.
For best results, you should make sure that exhaling takes approximately twice as long as inhaling.
- Belly breathing
When practiced regularly, this exercise can strengthen the diaphragm. This muscle plays a key role in correct breathing, since it controls our ability to take deep breaths.
To practice belly breathing, sit or lie down in a comfortable position and rest a hand on your stomach. Then take a deep slow breath through the nose, making sure your stomach rises as you inhale. Let the air out through the mouth, and repeat while trying to get the stomach to gradually rise higher as you inhale, and taking longer to exhale.
- Interval training
This is not a breathing exercise per se, but rather a mix of intense and not-so-intense exercise at regular intervals. For example, you can jump rope for 1 minute then walk for 2 minutes. This type of exercise gives the lungs more time to recover and gradually increases their ability to cope with more challenging situations.
Who can benefit from these exercises?
The exercises listed above can help if you have recently suffered from pneumonia. However, before going ahead you should discuss your health status with your doctor and get the all clear. After an episode of pneumonia, you want to avoid pushing your lungs too hard or too early.
The same warning applies to people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or are recovering from it. Because this is a new disease, you should consult with your healthcare provider before doing any breathing exercises, just to make sure they are safe. In this case, these exercises should only be started under the advice of a specialist or pulmonologist.
People with obstructive sleep apnea usually manage this sleep disorder using PAP or CPAP masks. These devices help get more restful sleep during the night, but the exercises listed above can offer additional support through the day. In particular, breathing exercises that strengthen the diaphragm can alleviate apnea symptoms and help keep the airways open.
Of course, people who are in good health can also benefit from breathing exercises. If you want to increase your lung capacity safely and efficiently, it makes sense to start when your lungs are healthy so they can respond better.
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