During the day, we breathe thousands of times thanks to our lungs and respiratory system. Lungs are a pair of soft, porous, and air-filled organs on either side of our chest. With the help of the lungs and respiratory system, our circulatory system supplies the inhaled oxygen to each cell in our body and removes carbon dioxide during the exhalation process.
Every cells and organ need oxygen to work efficiently. Our brain is one of the most sensitive organs in the body to oxygen deprivation. Some brain cells begin to die within five minutes of no oxygen. The medulla oblongata of the brain controls the involuntary breathing function. It is in charge of how much air we breathe during resting or exertion.
As breathing is an involuntary action, we usually don’t think about it until we experience breathing insufficiency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when respiratory insufficiency caused too much chaos, respiratory and lung health became crucial to every individual.
What is the importance of lung capacity in our life?
A lung capacity or total lung capacity (TLC) is the total amount of air that our lungs can hold upon the maximum attempt of inhalation. In childhood and adolescence, TLC increases rapidly and stabilizes around 25 years of age. After that, it starts decreasing. Age, ethnicity, gender, and body composition can affect the TLC.
The lung capacity helps our body get the energy it needs to function appropriately. Large lung capacities allow the body to transport oxygen faster around our body for better functioning. As we age, our lung capacity and functions start declining. Pollution, smoking, and pulmonary ailments like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma can affect TLC negatively. We can improve our lung capacity and pulmonary conditions with some lung exercises and lifestyle management.
Which exercises are helpful to improve lung health?
Regular practicing lung exercises can improve lung capacity and increase muscle strength around the diaphragm and rib cage. The following endurance breathing training routine will help you improve your lung health:
- Diaphragmatic or belly breathing
Belly or abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is one of the best exercises to strengthen the diaphragm and rib cage, decrease the work of breathing, and use less energy to breathe. Usually, diaphragmatic breathing is primary breathing. But with time, we start using the neck and thoracic muscles for breathing. Thoracic breathing limits the inflow and outflow of the air, thus reducing lung capacity. Therefore, mastering diaphragmatic breathing is crucial for better lung health. It includes the following steps:
- Lie down straight on a yoga mat or bed. With practice, you can perform belly breathing while sitting in a chair.
- Relax your body and place your hands on your stomach.
- While inhaling through your nose, ensure your abdomen moves outward, not your chest.
- Slowly breathe out with your stomach moving inwards and your chest remaining still.
- Repeat this for at least 5-10 minutes three to four times.
- Pursed-lip breathing
Pursed-lip breathing exercise is easy to master, and you can perform it anywhere and anytime. It helps control shortness of breath and makes breathing more effective by slowing the breathing pace and getting more air into the lungs. It is beneficial for people who have less active breathing muscles and have COPD or asthma. The following are the steps of the pursed-lip breathing exercise:
- Sit on a chair or sofa with the back straight.
- Breathe in the air through the nose for two seconds.
- Purse your lips as if you are about to blow a whistle.
- Breathe out the air from pursed lips for 4-6 seconds.
- Repeat the whole exercise for at least 5-10 minutes.
You can practice this exercise whenever you experience shortness of breath.
- Rib Stretch
It stretches all the thoracic and diaphragmatic muscles, eases the tension in these muscles, and improves lung health. The following are the steps of the ribs stretch:
- Stand upright position and place your hands on your hips.
- Slowly breathe in the air through your nostril until you feel your lungs are full.
- Hold your breath for at least 20 seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your nose.
- Repeat this process for at least five minutes.
- Lion pose or simhasan
This aasana mimics the force and intensity of a lion’s roar by manipulating the body and face simultaneously. Lion pose aasana helps prevent sore throat, COPD, asthma, and other respiratory ailments and enhances lung health. To perform this pose:
- Sit comfortably by distancing your knees as far as you can, with the toes of both feet touching each other.
- Move your body forward and place your palms on the floor between the knees.
- Arc your back slightly and move your head backward.
- Inhale the air through your nostril.
- While exhaling the air, move your mouth forward, bring your tongue outside, and produce a sound similar to a lion’s roar.
- After exhalation, closes your mouth and relax.
- Repeat this exercise at least 5-10 times for better results.
In addition to controlling breathing, pranayama also reduces the effect of stress on our body. A daily routine of Anuloma Viloma or Kapalbhati improves lung capacity and keeps many lungs and other ailments at bay.
- Humming a song
Singing all notes in a song requires deep breathing, which increases oxygen intake, enhances lung capacity, strengthens thoracic and abdominal muscles, and helps in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Singing your favorite song triggers the brain to release dopamine, which boosts our mood and relieves stress and anxiety.
- Interval strength training
Exercises involving interval strength training improve lung strength and strengthen the rib cage and diaphragmatic muscles. You can incorporate any of the following strength training exercises into your daily schedule:
- Jogging in one place
- Jumping jacks
- Jump squats
- High knee
Remember one thing practice makes every exercise perfect. Don’t quit exercising when you are short of breath. But, if you have a lung disease, always talk to your pulmonologist before starting an exercise routine.
Dr. Navneet Sood, Clinical Lead and Senior Consultant– Pulmonology, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi