Does walking up the stairs make you feel out of breath? Your lungs might need a workout! Having healthy lungs can make everyday tasks more comfortable. They’ll also be able to take in more oxygen, making sure your blood is properly oxygenated. Here are eight ways to strengthen your lungs.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
You can do breathing exercises to increase lung capacity. Focus on the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle that gets stronger with exercise – just like other muscles. When it contracts, it makes room for your lungs to expand1 So a strong diaphragm will contract better, allowing greater lung capacity.
It’s also known as belly breathing. This is best done in a quiet, comfortable space. Make sure it’s free of clutter and noise. And do put away your phone! You’ll be able to focus better while getting stress relief.
Start by sitting upright or lying down. Place your hands on your belly and inhale deeply through your nose. You should notice your belly moving in, pushing up your diaphragm. Exhale through your mouth, letting out a sighing noise. Do this for about 5 to 10 minutes each day.2
You can still do this exercise even if you have respiratory problems. In fact, common COPD exercises increase lung capacity with diaphragmatic breathing.3 Asthmatics will also need less medication if they practice deep breathing exercises.4
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Nadi Shodhan pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing, is a powerful breathing exercise. It forces you to consciously control your breath, which makes your lungs stronger. Just be sure to do it slowly for best results.
Again, you’ll need to be in a relaxing environment. The focus is needed to coordinate your fingers and breathing. You can even do it as part of your yoga practice.
Sit cross-legged on the floor. Hold out your right palm and bend the pointer and middle fingers. Keep the remaining fingers straight. Gently place your thumb on your right nostril and inhale deeply. Make sure you’re not applying too much pressure. Breathe out, noting that you should be exhaling longer than you’re inhaling. Remove your thumb and close your left nostril with your ring finger. Inhale and exhale, just as you did with the other nostril. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes every day or whenever you need a break.
3. Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lips can add extra resistance. It forces you to slow down breathing, allowing more time for the lung’s airways to stay open. This is a common part of COPD treatment, but anyone can benefit from pursed-lip breathing.
Begin by inhaling through your nose for two seconds. Pretend you are smelling a flower! Purse your lips as if you’re going to blow out a candle. Exhale slowly through the lips. This exhalation should be extremely slow, about 2 to 3 times longer than the inhalation.
Do pursed lip breathing daily for 5 to 10 minutes. If you have COPD, do it whenever you need to stop and catch your breath.5
4. Equal Breathing
Sama Vritti, or equal breathing, gives you more practice on breath control. This one takes a lot of focus, so do it in quiet space. Your brain needs to be calm and relaxed. Sama Vritti is best done cross-legged. First, wait until your breath is constant. Inhale for four seconds, making sure your lungs are nice and full. Exhale for another four seconds. Your lungs should be completely empty. Repeat for 5 minutes daily.
As a breathing exercise, Sama Vritti can also increase the lung function of asthmatics.6 You can also adjust the number of seconds you inhale and exhale. Just make sure they’re equal.
5. Yoga And Pilates
A standard part of yoga and Pilates includes breathing exercises to strengthen lungs. The deep breathing will boost your circulation, helping your lungs bring in more oxygen. You’ll also practice breath control, which gives your lungs and diaphragm a good workout.7
If you have asthma, don’t worry. Yoga automatically includes exercises to increase lung capacity for asthma. It can improve overall lung function, especially if you have this condition.8
During your practice, listen to the instructor. She will provide guidance on when (and how) to breathe. And while it might be tempting to hold your breath during difficult moves, don’t do it! Always keep the oxygen flowing. Your entire body – lungs included – will benefit from controlled breathing.
Holding your breath underwater forces your lung capacity to increase. It does this to compensate for the air you’re not breathing in. The water also places pressure on respiratory muscles, making them stronger.9 It’s a lot like resistance training for your lungs and diaphragm.
If you don’t know how to swim, don’t worry. You don’t need to do laps to reap the benefits. Simply wading around in shallow water can do the trick. Every now and then, take a deep breath and go underwater.
Aerobic exercise like running can highly benefit your lungs.10 This is because your body needs more oxygen when you run. So your lungs work extra hard to support it!11 Plus, having less fat is linked to greater lung volume. Physical inactivity is a major factor in overall lung capacity and strength.12
Just starting out? Try jogging, walking, or dancing. Even a trendy Zumba class will help. Whatever you choose to do, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise five days a week.13
If you’re already active, you can do breathing exercises to increase lung capacity for running. Any of the exercises mentioned earlier can be part of your daily practice.
8. Water Splashing
It might sound silly, but splashing cold water on your face can improve lung capacity. Holding your breath – even for a few seconds – will work them out. The cold water can even slow down your heart rate, making it easier to take deep breaths. So try doing this before practicing breathing exercises.
Want to be extra productive? Do this while washing your face at night! 14
To keep your lungs in tip-top shape, avoid smoking. Stay away from passive smoking, too. It’s also a good idea to improve the air quality at home. Make it a habit of vacuuming regularly and use natural cleaning products.
|↑1||Diaphragm and lungs, MedlinePlus|
|↑2||Breathing Exercises, American Lung Association|
|↑3, ↑5||Breathing Techniques, COPD Foundation|
|↑4||Thomas, Milke and Anne Bruton. Breathing exercises for asthma. Breathe. 10(2014):312-322.|
|↑6, ↑8||Pal, Gopal Krushna, Velkumary Subramaniyam, and Madanmohan. Effect of short-term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers. Indian Journal of Medical Research. 120.2(2014):115-121.|
|↑7||Pilates and yoga – health benefits, Better Health Channel|
|↑9||Sable, Meenakshi, S.M. Vaidya, and S.S. Sable. Comparative study of lung functions in swimmers and runners. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 56.1(2012):100-104.|
|↑10||Rochester, Carolyn L. Exercise training in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development 40.5(2003):59-80.|
|↑11||Your lungs and exercise, European Lung Foundation|
|↑12||Azad, Ahman, Reza Gharakhanlou, Alireza Nikna, and Amir Ghanbari. Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Lung Function in Overweight and Obese Students. Tannafos 10.3(2011):24-31.|
|↑13||American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults, American Heart Association|
|↑14||Paul, Poul-Erik, Mieczylaw Pokorski, Yoshiyuki Honda, and Wataru Nakamura. “Facial cold receptors and the survival reflex “diving bradycardia” in man.” The Japanese Journal of Physiology 40.5(1990):701-712.|