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If you have COPD, you will know how it feels to be out of breath. Luckily for you, there are breathing exercises which can help you breathe more easily. For instance, you could try diaphragmatic breathing and pursed-lip breathing.

If you have COPD, you will know the feeling of being out of breath. If you have trouble breathing, you might start to feel stressed, causing you to be more out of breath than before. What is the best way to help with your breathing problems? A great way to do this is by trying exercises especially for people who have breathing problems, aerobic workouts, strength workouts, and also stretching exercises. Diaphragmatic breathing and pursed-lip breathing, in particular, can really help those who have COPD.

Even though these breathing exercises are especially good for COPD patients others can also get benefits from practicing these breathing methods. The benefits of breathing exercises include slightly reducing COPD symptoms and even just generally making your life better.

Pursed-lip breathing

What is pursed-lip breathing and how do you do it? It’s basically exactly what it sounds like — breathing in through the nose and breathing out through pursed lips (lips that look like you're blowing someone an air kiss). See? That wasn’t that hard! 

Pursed-lip breathing is great for when you feel really out of breath. You can also do it before and after your workout routine.

COPD patients may find air gets "trapped" in the lungs because of irritated, inflamed, and less elastic airways. This is how you get out of breath. If you breathe out with pursed lips, your airways will be more resistant, which causes them to open better when you breathe out. Not only does it help make your airways resistant, it can also make your breathing less fast. And did you know it can make you feel relaxed?

You can practice doing this method by breathing in through your nose while also keeping your mouth closed. After that, start to purse your lips and then lightly breathe out. Breathe out for around double the time you breathed in.

Using pursed-lip breathing will strengthen your respiratory muscles and make your lungs fill and empty properly. When not as much air is stuck in your lungs, this leads to a higher amount of air being able to go to your bloodstream.

Just in case you haven’t caught on yet, here are some more tips on how to do pursed-lip breathing. First, you should relax your shoulders and neck. Then start to count to three while inhaling through your nose. Exhale through pursed lips, and remember to breathe out for double the amount of time you inhaled, but you shouldn't use force, just literally "go with the flow". 

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is called that because it makes your diaphragm stronger. The diaphragm is very important when it comes to breathing. It’s placed right below your lungs and what it does is help get the air out of your lungs when you breathe out. If air is stuck in your airway, this makes it harder for the diaphragm to do its job, causing it to not be as effective.

While it isn’t as easy to do as pursed-lip breathing, you will get better and you might be able to do about 12 breaths in one session. First, lie down on your back and put a pillow below your knees. Then place one of your hands on your stomach and the other on your chest. While you breathe in to allow your stomach to grow just make sure not to move your chest. Count to three while breathing in and then stop. Then gently start to exhale while pursing your lips, and count to six as you're doing it.

When you have practiced this method of breathing for a while, your body will naturally start to use the diaphragm more and more. The point of this is to do diaphragmatic breathing frequently. Using diaphragmatic breathing as much as you can will help your diaphragm work better and you will even find that your breathing will become less labored.

Deep breathing

It isn’t only people with COPD that usually take quite shallow and brief breaths, but this way of breathing is bad, as it can cause you to feel stressed and low on energy. Deep breathing can help you fully fill and empty your lungs. While this can make you feel out of breath it leads to breathing in fresher air. What does deeper breathing teach you? When you take deeper breaths you will know how to take breaths that are bigger and get them right into your stomach.

First, you should draw your elbows back while you are either sitting or standing. Then take a really deep breath. You should hold it for about five seconds. Then breathe that air out slowly and completely.

Controlled coughing

Another symptom COPD patients go through is that their body makes more mucus. Mucus stuck in your airways is a big part of why you are out of breath. This is not good because if your mucus blocks your airways it will be harder and harder to breathe and also an infection could develop. So you know it is crucial to get rid of this mucus, and that is what controlled coughing will be helping you with.

Alongside diaphragmatic breathing, using controlled coughing can help you get rid of the mucus that is clogging up your lungs. This will make it a lot easier to breathe.

Now you know what benefits controlled coughing comes with, let’s see how to do it. Firstly you should sit up in a place you think is cozy as well as noise free. Then let your head bend forward just a bit. Now put your feet down on the floor. While doing diaphragmatic breathing start to deeply breathe in. You should hold your breath for around three seconds while you breathe in. After that open your mouth just a little and put your hand on your stomach. Now open your mouth just a bit and then plant your dominant hand (or both hands) firmly on your belly. Apply pressure around the area of your diaphragm as you let out one forceful cough.

The first cough you let out will move the mucus right to your throat so cough again to let the mucus out. Now take a tissue (or toilet paper) and spit the mucus into it. You should call your physician right away if the mucus is either brown, green, pink, or bloody since this could indicate an infection or some other issues. Now you can take a break and do it again if you have more mucus. After you are done it is important to wash your hands to get rid of bacteria. Make sure to wash your hands properly.

Finally, try to not to take any really quick breathes using your mouth. Also, make sure to drink a lot of water so that the mucus stays loose.

Huff cough breathing

The body’s natural reflex to get rid of mucus from your lungs is coughing. Even though coughing helps sometimes it is just not good enough and also coughing by reflex can make you feel drained. Your airways tighten as you cough repeatedly, which will make it even more difficult to get rid of phlegm. What does the huff cough method help you with? When you do this method, it can help your cough be more effective and it can clear phlegm without leaving you fatigued.

To do the huff cough first sit on a chair. Then start to take quite a few deep breaths just like you would do with diaphragmatic breathing. Now put your hand on your belly and just breathe as you normally would. After that, start forcing air out and start whispering “huff”. You can imagine that you are blowing on a mirror and it causes it to start steaming.

Huff coughs aren’t as tiring as a regular cough and doing a huff cough can prevent you from feeling drained while you are coughing up phlegm. It’s advised to start working with a respiratory therapist or another therapist while you are doing this exercise.

  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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