Having healthy lungs means that breathing is easy and natural. The lungs work nonstop to deliver oxygen to the bloodstream and expel carbon dioxide from the body. Every cell in the body draws oxygen from the blood, so impaired lung function, which can result from any number of respiratory conditions or poor diet, means that the lungs cannot efficiently supply the body with the necessary amount of oxygen.
How Do The Lungs Work?
You use the muscles of your rib cage, especially the diaphragm, to inhale. The diaphragm tightens and flattens, allowing you to suck air into your lungs. You exhale as the diaphragm and other rib cage muscles relax. In order to get the amount of oxygen your body needs, you inhale air through your nose and mouth. Mucous membranes in the nose and mouth moisten and warm the air, but they also trap foreign particles, pathogens, and external threats from entering the trachea (windpipe) and lungs. The trachea disperses air into the left and right bronchi, and finally into the alveoli, which are small sacs that act like balloons when you inhale. These “balloons” deflate, essentially, to move air out of the lungs during exhalation.
The efficiency of lung function and lung capacity determine how well they can deliver oxygen to the body and how quickly they can get rid of carbon dioxide. Your lung capacity, which is how much air your lungs can hold, affects how air moves in and out of the lungs. It’s very important to note that lung capacity can be improved, but lung function cannot. If you want to improve lung health then you need to improve lung capacity, and you’ll find that the following exercises can help you do just that.
Pursed Lip Breathing
People with chronic lung conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or bronchitis experience inflamed airways that make it difficult for air to circulate the lungs. When stale air becomes trapped in the lungs, it makes it difficult for them to absorb new oxygen. Pursed lip breathing encourages the airways to stay open longer when you exhale, meaning that stale air can be expelled to allow fresh new air in. This is a very easy exercise to do. Take a deep inhale through your nose, purse your lips, and exhale through those pursed lips for twice as long as your inhale was. If you inhale for five seconds, then your exhale should be ten seconds.
Laugh And Sing Your Heart Out
Any activity that engages the abdominal muscles, especially the diaphragm, is beneficial for the lungs. Everyone can laugh and sing, so don’t hold back! Laughing works to increase lung capacity and forces stale air out of the lungs. Singing is all about using the diaphragm to project sound, so sing in the shower, car, or in the garden to increase lung capacity.
Chest percussion works to loosen the mucus in your lungs. It is very important that you avoid the spine and breastbone. To do chest percussion, cup your hand and lightly tap your chest and back. You can ask your doctor where the best spots are for tapping, and you may find it easier for someone to do the tapping for you.
Belly Breathing (a.k.a. Diaphragmatic Breathing)
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits between the chest and abdomen. It helps to fill the lungs with air when it moves down, and it pushes air out of the lungs as it moves back up. Most people don’t use the diaphragm to breathe, even though they are supposed to. To do this exercise, it is very important to breathe from the belly. You can place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Breathe in through the nose for two seconds and exhale through pursed lips for two seconds. Press down on your abdomen as you exhale to make sure you are engaging the diaphragm.
Coughing is the body’s attempt to get rid of mucus, but coughing that is out of your control can make things worse because your airways close, trapping mucus in the lungs. When you engage in controlled coughing, you work to loosen mucus and allow it to move through the airways. To practice controlled coughing, sit on the edge of a chair and keep both feet planted on the floor. Lean forward slightly and relax as you breathe in through your nose. Fold the arms over your belly and push your arms against your belly as you exhale. Cough two or three times during your exhale, keeping your mouth open and the coughs short. Inhale again through your nose and repeat the coughing. You can always rest and repeat as needed. This is very beneficial for people with COPD.