What are Different COPD Breathing Exercises?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition in which the airways have narrowed, causing shortness of breath. Simple acts such as getting dressed or getting a snack in the kitchen might leave the sufferer badly winded. COPD breathing exercises can help the sufferer recover quickly and restore normal breathing patterns. Two of the most effective COPD breathing exercises are pursed lip breathing and diaphragm breathing.

Pursed lip breathing is one of the most common COPD breathing exercises, used instinctively by most people when out of breath, and is an effective technique for restoring natural breathing rate. This method can be used to slow the rate and depth of breathing until it is back to normal. To perform pursed lip breathing, the sufferer should sit upright and relax, inhale through the nose, then purse the lips as if whistling and exhale. This will cause the sufferer's cheeks to puff out. He or she should not blow out the air forcefully but should exhale naturally.

Deliberately exhaling through pursed lips encourages a longer exhalation, and it clears more old air from the lungs, improving ventilation. Expelling more air creates back pressure, drawing more fresh air in on each inhalation. COPD breathing exercises such as pursed lip breathing slow the rate of breathing and help the sufferer to relax.


Diaphragm breathing is another helpful exercise. The diaphragm is a muscle located under the lungs and is responsible for aiding in breathing. Often, COPD sufferers no longer use this muscle efficiently and need to retrain the body to use it properly. COPD breathing exercises such as diaphragm breathing are likely to make the sufferer tired initially, but with practice, these COPD breathing exercises become easier.

To perform diaphragm breathing, the sufferer should lie on his or her back with bent knees. One hand should rest on the abdomen and the other on the upper chest. The COPD sufferer should inhale through the nose and concentrate on letting his or her stomach rise while the chest remains still. He or she should exhale through pursed lips and allow the stomach to fall while the chest continues to remain still. Initially, these diaphragm exercises should be performed no more than three or four times a day, five to 10 minutes each time, but with practice, this can be increased.

When performing COPD breathing exercises, some caution might be required. For instance, COPD breathing exercises might cause lightheadedness. This is an indication of over-ventilation, a signal that breathing should be slowed. Of course, anyone with a serious medical condition such as COPD should speak with a doctor regarding any treatment or exercise plan.


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