A key part of pulmonary rehabilitation is practicing breathing exercises. Read on for a broader understanding of what really happens in the body when you perform these breathing exercises.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lip breathing is an extremely effective strategy that helps people reduce anxiety, calm down, and better regulate their breathing.
To practice pursed lip breathing:
- Start with your back straight.
- Inhale through your nose for two seconds. Engage your diaphragm while breathing in.
- As you exhale, purse your lips, as if you are making soap bubbles. Your exhalation can last four seconds (or twice as long as the inhale). Breathe out slowly.
- Repeat 5 times, approximately 4-5 times per day.
Pursed lip breathing is effective because it moves oxygen into your lungs and carbon dioxide out of your lungs. It keeps your air passages open longer, so that you can release the air that is trapped inside your lungs. Your breathing rate slows and can help to relieve shortness of breath.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle at the base of your lungs that contracts rhythmically to power your breathing and is largely supported by your abdominal muscles. If your diaphragm becomes weak and/or flattened, it works less efficiently. Diaphragmatic breathing is an exercise that can be used to combat that, helping to promote strength in the diaphragm.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing:
- Make sure you are in a comfortable position to start. Your head, neck, and shoulders should start from a relaxed state.
- Start by putting one hand on the middle of your upper chest. Place your other hand beneath your rib cage and below your diaphragm (on the belly). Breathe in through your nose, drawing the breath down toward your stomach. The hand on your belly will rise as you let in air deeply. The hand on the chest will not move much but the hand on the belly should rise. This means you are using your diaphragm for that breath.
- As you exhale, your abdominal muscles will fall inward, tightening in the process. Now your hand on your belly will return to where it started.
- Repeat this exercise 5 times, 3-4 times a day
Your lungs rise and fall naturally, but for people with COPD air can often get stuck in your lungs.
Diaphragmatic breathing works by allowing you to consciously fill your lungs to full capacity, which does not normally happen during regular breathing.
Coordinated breathing helps to foster a breathing cycle that can be tied to movement. Although it can also be used when feeling anxious, this is ideally used with movement or exercise.
To practice coordinated breathing:
- Inhale through your nose before you start activity.
- Now, as you perform the movement or exercise, exhale through pursed lips.
- Now, as you rest, take in another inhalation.
- As you perform the next movement or exercise, exhale again.
- Repeat this coordinated cycle as you continue your activity.
Coordinated breathing is helpful because it allows you to ensure you have adequate oxygen in your lungs to perform an activity. Being conscious of your breath during exercise or activity also allows you to be active for longer, which in turn improves lung health.
Huff Coughing is another technique that helps to move mucus out of the lungs, helping a person to not become so physically exhausted as they clear their airways each day.
To practice the huff coughing technique:
- Sitting up in a straight position, tilt your chin up slightly in order to help open your throat.
- Start with three diaphragmatic breaths.
- On your third diaphragmatic breath, hold for three seconds.
- Then exhale with a quick forced exhalation through an open glottis (the opening between the vocal cords). Try whispering the word “HA” while breathing out.
- Perform three huff cough maneuvers and then rest. This will help to move mucus through the airways and promote a gentler way to cough.
Huff coughing works because it allows you to keep your throat open longer, as well as allowing air to move past the mucus that is already present in the airways. Once you are able to move the mucus to the larger openings in the airways, it is easier to remove.
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This blog is for educational purposes only; talk to your provider to understand recommendations specific to you.