Lung exercises can help people control their breathing and increase their lung capacity. They are helpful for people with lung problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

When a person breathes, the diaphragm contracts to pull air into the lungs. The lungs take oxygen from the air and send it to the blood, so it can then circulate around the body and into cells. At the same time, the lungs exhale carbon dioxide, a waste gas, which travels from the blood to the lungs and back out into the air.

Several health conditions can impair the normal breathing process and mean a person cannot inhale sufficient oxygen and exhale all the waste carbon dioxide. This can lead to shortness of breath and rapid, shallow breathing.

This article explains how lung exercises can help rid the lungs of stale air, increase blood oxygen levels, and help the diaphragm work efficiently.

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Lung exercises are techniques for improving a person’s breathing. Performing them regularly can help the lungs work more efficiently. They also have a calming effect on the body, reducing stress levels.

Lung exercises are beneficial for several reasons. They may help to:

  • increase air flow through the lungs
  • improve diaphragm strength
  • remove mucous from the lungs
  • keep the lungs and chest wall supple
  • increase oxygen levels

Lung exercises may help people manage the symptoms of the following conditions:

Learn about the structure and function of the lungs here.

People should not start breathing exercises and call a doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:

People should stop breathing exercises if they develop any of the following:

  • chest pain
  • clammy skin
  • dizziness
  • excessive fatigue
  • irregular heartbeat
  • being more short of breath than usual

If the symptoms above continue at rest or a person experiences a change in their mental state, they should call 911 immediately.

Learn how to exercise with COPD.

Lung exercises can benefit most people but are particularly helpful for older people and those with conditions that affect breathing.

The American Lung Association recommends performing breathing exercises daily for 5–10 minutes when a person’s breathing feels comfortable. Once a person is familiar with them, they can use them when they are short of breath.

Below are some common breathing exercises.

This video from the American Lung Association explains how pursed lip breathing works.

This exercise keeps the airways open for longer by reducing the number of breaths a person takes. This allows more air to flow in and out of the lungs, helping them be more physically active.

  1. Inhale through the nose.
  2. Purse the lips as if blowing on something.
  3. Exhale the breath through the mouth for at least twice as long as the inhale.

Learn more about pursed lip breathing here.

This video from The American Lung Association explains how diaphragmatic, or belly breathing, works.

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is broken into four phases that increase in difficulty. A person can start with phase one and move on to the next phase if they can complete it comfortably.

Phase 1: Deep breathing while lying on the back

  1. Lie on the back with knees bent, and feet raised up, resting on the bed.
  2. Place the hands on top of the stomach.
  3. Close the lips and place the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
  4. Breathe in through the nose and pull air down into the stomach where the hands are resting. Try to spread the fingers apart with the breath.
  5. Slowly exhale the breath through the nose.
  6. Repeat deep breaths for one minute.

Phase 2: Deep breathing while lying on the stomach

  1. Lie on the stomach with the head resting on the hands to allow room to breathe.
  2. Close the lips and place the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
  3. Breathe in through the nose and pull the air down into the stomach. Focus on the stomach pushing into the mattress during the breath.
  4. Slowly exhale the breath through the nose.
  5. Repeat deep breaths for one minute.

Phase 3: Deep breathing while sitting

  1. Sit upright on the edge of a bed or in a sturdy chair.
  2. Place the hands around the sides of the stomach.
  3. Close the lips and place the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
  4. Breathe in through the nose and pull the air down into the stomach. Try to spread the fingers apart with the breath.
  5. Slowly exhale the breath through the nose.
  6. Repeat deep breaths for one minute.

Phase 4: Deep breathing while standing

  1. Stand upright and place the hands around the sides of the stomach.
  2. Close the lips and place the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
  3. Breathe in through the nose and pull the air down into the stomach. Try to spread the fingers apart with this breath.
  4. Slowly exhale the breath through the nose.
  5. Repeat deep breaths for one minute.

Learn more about diaphragmatic breathing here.

This exercise combines motion with deep breathing to help improve coordination, build strength, and open up the chest. The motion also gives the diaphragm space to expand.

  1. Sit upright on the edge of a bed or in a sturdy chair.
  2. Reach the arms up and create a big stretching yawn.
  3. Bring the arms down and finish by smiling for three seconds.
  4. Repeat for one minute.

  1. Sit upright on the edge of the bed or in a sturdy chair.
  2. Place the hands around the sides of the stomach.
  3. Close the lips and place the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
  4. Breathe in through the nose and pull the air down into the stomach. Try to spread the fingers apart with this breath.
  5. When the lungs are full, keep the lips closed and exhale while humming, making a “hmm” sound.
  6. Inhale again and then exhale through the nose while humming.
  7. Repeat for one minute.

Singing is an activity that may benefit people wanting to improve their lung health. Research suggests that singing may help improve people’s breathing and well-being.

Singing may be beneficial because:

  • it helps people to breathe slowly and deeply, emptying the lungs more fully during long phrases
  • it improves people’s breath control, leading to reduced anxiety and panic
  • it improves posture, helping people breathe more efficiently
  • it helps people use their abdominal muscles effectively for singing and breathing

Learn about other breathing techniques here.

Regular breathing practice may help a person manage their breathing symptoms when they arise. Exercises can also increase oxygen levels and help a person feel and function better. Knowing how to control the breath can reduce anxiety and improve a person’s quality of life.

A 2019 review and meta-analysis found that certain breathing exercises improved the exchange of air through the lungs and eased breathing difficulties for people with COPD.

Lung exercises are an effective way to improve people’s respiratory health and manage the symptoms of lung conditions. They help the lungs take in more oxygen and release carbon dioxide from the lungs.

The most common type of lung exercise is deep breathing, which involves taking long, slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Regular breathing practice can enable people to cope with breathing difficulties when they arise and reduce anxiety. Singing may also be beneficial to lung health and improve people’s well-being.