When you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, you may regularly experience shortness of breath. COPD can refer to chronic bronchitis, emphysema and certain types of asthma. Just as we exercise to manage our muscles, we can use breathing exercises to manage COPD.
According to The COPD Foundation, feeling short of breath can create a vicious cycle because you avoid activities that take your breath away. Being less active can lead to weakened muscles, which can cause more breathlessness. The key to breaking the cycle is to learn how to flex your lung muscles using breathing exercises for COPD.
When my grandmother developed COPD, I coached her through these exercises for three years and even did them with her. I was fortunate to see these techniques help her regain a normal life.
Breathing Exercises for COPD
Some people with COPD have lost elasticity in their lungs, so they have a harder time exhaling than they do inhaling. It’s important to expel all the air while performing each of the techniques below, so when performing breathing exercises for COPD, work up to exhaling twice as long as you inhale.
This technique works any time and any place, even during an episode of shortness of breath.
- Before you begin, relax your neck and shoulders.
- Keep your mouth closed and breathe in through your nose for two seconds.
- Purse your lips and breathe out for four seconds.
This twist on pursed-lip breathing allows COPD patients to exercise comfortably and with confidence.
- Before beginning an exercise or during the easy phase, inhale through your nose.
- During the most strenuous part of the exercise, exhale through pursed lips.
The Huff Cough
The Huff cough technique is a more gentle way of coughing and can help clear your airways.
- Sit down and take a deep breath.
- Imagine blowing steam onto a mirror and exhale in three even, sharp breaths, while making the sounds “ha-ha-ha.”
Abdominal breathing is a little more difficult than the two exercises above, and it works best when sitting or lying down.
- Lie down and place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest to monitor your breathing.
- Breathe deeply for two seconds while expanding your stomach. It should rise higher than your chest.
- Breathe out slowly through pursed lips while pressing on your stomach. Try to work up to a count of four seconds.
To allow your chest to expand fully, perform this exercise with your elbows extended slightly behind your back.
- Take a deep breath.
- Count to five while you hold the air.
- Slowly exhale all the air.
Work up to ten minutes of breathing exercises for COPD three or four times each day. Remember to practice pursed-lip breathing whenever you feel any shortness of breath. With practice, you’ll learn to use these techniques to manage the disease and break the cycle of breathlessness.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.