3 Exercises to Help You Breathe Easier

Senior woman taking a deep breath

Short on breath? Living with a chronic lung condition can make your breathing feel constricted—especially during extreme weather changes that cause dryness (i.e., winter) or higher levels of humidity/allergens (i.e., spring and summer).

To handle these common temperature fluctuations and keep your lungs filled with fresh—not stale—air, exercise is key. But let’s not limit our definition to just cardio. Though physical exercise is recommended to improve your heart, lungs, and muscle health, an equally important habit to add to your daily routine is breathing exercises: “Like aerobic exercise improves your heart function and strengthens your muscles, breathing exercises can make your lungs more efficient.”

In a previous article, we shared two popular breathing techniques for people living with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). We’d like to expand on this topic further and share a few other breathing exercises for people living with bronchiectasis. 

Why Does Bronchiectasis Cause Shortness of Breath?

Before we explore more breathing techniques, let’s first discuss why shortness of breath is a common symptom of bronchiectasis. 

Bronchiectasis develops from repeated respiratory infection and inflammation that causes damage to the airways. Over time, the airways become abnormally widened, making it harder for the lungs to mobilize and clear mucus. This can lead to chronic infections and difficulty in moving air in and out of the lungs. 

Graphic icon of lungs.How To Strengthen the Lungs

Breathing techniques work to help strengthen the muscles needed for the lungs to function. They also allow your neck and shoulders to relax and help you breathe easier, using a series of calm, controlled breaths:

If practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.

What Exercises Help with Shortness of Breath?

Below are three recommended breathing techniques. *Always remember to consult with your clinician before beginning any type of exercise. 

A common symptom of impaired airway clearance is a chronic cough that produced mucus.

1. Huff Cough – The word “cough” may throw you off on whether this is a breathing technique or a coughing exercise. It’s actually both. This technique works to help you loosen mucus in your lungs and cough it out. 

    • You begin by taking in a deep inhale through your nose. Then, as though you were huffing on a pair of eyeglasses to clean the lenses, you exhale 3 equal breaths while pulling your abdomen inward and making a “huff” sound.

2. Belly Breathing – When your diaphragm is having difficulty moving air in and out of the lungs, your body will rely on other muscles, such as the neck, back, and chest area to do the heavy lifting. We talked about this type of exercise, also known as diaphragm breathing, in a previous article, this technique works to retrain the diaphragm to do most of the breathing work for you. 

The British Lung Foundation has a simple alliteration to help you master this exercise: Rise, Relax, and Rest.

  • Rise – breath in deeply and feel your stomach rise.
  • Relax – gently release the air out.
  • Rest – wait patiently for the next breath.

Be sure to read their article for more tips on performing this exercise, as well as how to practice pursed-lip breathing. 

3. Paced Breathing – If you are feeling out of breath while performing certain physical activities, such as climbing the stairs or going for a walk outdoors, paced breathing allows you to keep your pace aligned with each individual breath.

    • This exercise involves you counting your breaths with steps. For instance, you may breathe in for one step and then out for two steps. *Again, you’ll want to consult with your clinician to decide whether this is an effective breathing technique for you. 

Could Airway Clearance Therapy Be An Option? 

Though exercise can help improve lung function and strengthen your muscles to support the breathing process, depending on your individual symptoms, you may also benefit from airway clearance therapy.

Airway clearance via the SmartVest Airway Clearance System works to deliver repeated pulses of air that gently squeeze and release the upper chest wall. This helps loosen mucus and propel it upwards, where it becomes easier to cough out. This type of therapy, called HFCWO (high frequency chest wall oscillation) may help you avoid chronic flare ups that can worsen symptoms, as well as allow you to proactively manage your individual condition. 

Remember, bronchiectasis is an irreversible lung condition, and if left untreated, it can further damage the lungs and airways. Therefore, breathing techniques are not enough to help treat and manage this disease. 

In fact, your doctor may recommend breathing exercises in conjunction with SmartVest, such as huff cough, as this can help you cough up mucus more productively, thus aiding in your airway clearance therapy.

Woman using SmartVest Airway Clearance System.

Is SmartVest Right for You?

If you’d like to learn more about SmartVest and how it works to deliver at-home airway clearance therapy that helps you breathe easier and live better, request an informational packet today and even contact our Patient Care Advocate to ask any questions you have about your symptoms or how SmartVest works.

 

 

 

 

 

For more tips on living with bronchiectasis and other lung conditions, subscribe to our blog to stay connected to our community. 


Resources

British Lung Foundation. ” Looking after your lungs in hot weather.” Retrieved from https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/hot-weather

American Lung Association. “Breathing Exercises.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/breathing-exercises

American Lung Association. “Breathing Exercises.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/breathing-exercises

American Thoracic Society. “Treating Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/bronchiectasis-treatment.pdf

American Lung Association. “Breathing Exercises.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/breathing-exercises

British Lung Foundation. “Breathlessness.” Retrieved from https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/breathlessness/how-to-manage-breathlessness

British Lung Foundation. “Breathlessness.” Retrieved from https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/breathlessness/how-to-manage-breathlessness

American Thoracic Society. “Treating Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/bronchiectasis-treatment.pdf

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