Exercises to keep your lungs healthy


IF YOU frequently have shortness of breath when out walking or simply doing your everyday activities, your physiotherapist will prescribe exercises for your breathing and to make your lungs, heart and muscles more efficient.

These exercises are suitable for the majority of people of all age groups and often help with shortness of breath in older populations.

Believe it or not, there are right and wrong ways to breathe. Training yourself to breath properly is a great and easy way to prevent from becoming out of breath.

How to breath the right way:

The diaphragm is the main muscle of breathing located below your lungs. It’s supposed to do most of the work. If it isn’t doing most of the work, then secondary breathing muscles in the neck, shoulders and back start to take over, and they aren’t that efficient in moving air. We need to retrain your diaphragm to work again.

  • Go somewhere where you feel rested and relaxed, and sit back or lie down.
  • Check your shoulders – are they tense and up near your ears? Start by relaxing your shoulders.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
  • Inhale through your nose for about two seconds.
  • As you breathe in, your belly should move outward. Your belly should move more than your chest.
  • Breathe out for 4 seconds.
  • Repeat, and do regularly every day.

While exercising if you feel out of breath, then you can use a technique called “purse-lipped breathing”. This will slow your breathing down, keep the airways open longer and reduce the work needed to breath. It will help you exercise for longer and deliver more oxygen to where your body needs it.

  • Breathe in through your nose for about 2 seconds.
  • Pucker your lips like you’re getting ready to blow out candles on a birthday cake.
  • Breathe out very slowly through your pursed lips, for about 4-6 seconds.
  • Repeat until your breathing becomes easier.

Better breathing tip: Stop, relax, continue

When you are feeling short of breath during exercise or regular activities, use these 3 steps:

  • Stop your activity.
  • Sit down, relax your shoulders, and do pursed-lips breathing until you catch your breath. You can also try to sit down and lean forward.
  • Continue the activity, doing pursed-lips breathing as needed. Go at a slower pace if you need to.

An excellent way to improve your breathing is to do the right kind of exercises to make your muscles more efficient.

After doing 10 minutes of warm-up and stretching exercises, try out some of the exercises below:

  • Swimming laps
  • Walking in a swimming pool
  • Leg and arm exercises in a swimming pool with floatation devices to give resistance
  • Brisk walking
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Bike riding on flat surfaces or static bike riding
  • Body weight exercises to strengthen the legs such as squats over a chair
  • Arm and upper body exercises with light weights, especially above the shoulders
  • Golf
  • A light game of badminton and tennis

Avoid any exercises that you know will make you out of breath straightaway such as running, lifting heavy weights or walking up steep hills.

If you have any existing health conditions that you are concerned about, consult your physiotherapist and your doctor before starting anything new.

For any additional help with these exercises (or any other exercises) consult your friendly physiotherapist who can also:

  • Give advice and treatment to help clear the airways which can also cause shortness of breath
  • Prescribe exercises to prevent and reduce pain in the muscles, joints and spine
  • Prevent weakness and muscle imbalances
  • Train your balance to prevent falls and injuries

Happy exercising!

Alisha Bajerai is the principal physiotherapist at Physio Savvy physiotherapy clinic.

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