Increase Your Respiratory Strength with These Exercises

respiratory strength

You never really think about the simple act of breathing until something hinders your ability to do so. Whether it’s allergies, colds or medical conditions, high elevations or strenuous exercise, not being able to draw a full breath is uncomfortable.

Our respiratory strength starts declining after our 20s, making it more difficult to take full, deep breaths. Developing extra strength can help your lungs operate more efficiently, which will have a positive effect on your overall health. Plus, it feels good and will help you achieve a sense of calm. It’s the perfect form of exercise to do while working, driving or even watching TV.

Ready to pump up your lungs? Read on.

Why is respiratory strength important?

Generally speaking, respiratory strength helps your lungs operate efficiently, which oxygenates your blood and affects how well the rest of your body can perform its other functions. If you have a chronic lung disease, however, such as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis, it’s harder for your body to generate enough oxygenated blood.

Respiratory exercises help maintain or improve your lung capacity and lung function. Lung capacity is how much air your body can use, while lung function involves how your body uses that air. When you have chronic lung conditions, your lungs may struggle to expel “stale air.” Over time, the stale air builds up, making it harder for your diaphragm to expand and contract. Your body might start using muscles in the back, neck and shoulders to help lung function. Your oxygen levels—and your energy—will plummet.

If chronic lung conditions and shortness of breath run in your family, it’s a good idea to start improving your respiratory strength now. Anyone can benefit from increased respiratory strength.

Exercises to try

There are two main exercises that you can do to build respiratory strength. If you meditate, you’re likely familiar with them already—and that’s another great opportunity to build your respiratory strength. Pursed-lip breathing and belly breathing will strengthen your respiratory system while keeping you calm.

  • Pursed-lip breathing. This is the “entry level” breathing exercise. It works by slowing your breathing down, which allows more opportunity for the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. Inhale through your nose. Purse your lips, then slowly blow the air out through your lips. Try counting to three as you inhale, holding the breath for three more seconds, then exhaling for six seconds. You can increase the length of your inhale and exhale as you get into the exercise—just make sure your exhale is at least double the time your inhale took.
  • Belly breathing. For this exercise, you’ll need to lie down. Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Inhale “into” your stomach, feeling your belly rise. Press down on your stomach as you exhale through pursed lips. Repeat this as long as you can.

Other ways to keep your lungs healthy

Of course, deep breathing exercises aren’t the only way to keep your lungs healthy. Avoid smoking or vaping, and try to stay away from smoky environments. This might be impossible if you live in a wildfire-prone area like California. In that case, invest in a quality air purifier with a HEPA filter. You should also avoid scented air fresheners, and keep your home free from mold and dust.

Another good way to keep your lungs in top shape: get vaccinated against respiratory illness, like flu, pneumonia and COVID-19. All of these illnesses affect lung function, especially if they progress to a severe stage.

Exercise and diet can also make a big difference. Try to eat a diet rich in antioxidants, and get as much exercise as possible. Your respiratory strength will quickly improve, especially if you engage in high intensity workouts.

Finally, if you sing or play a brass or woodwinds instrument, that can also keep your lungs in top shape. It takes a lot of air to power those tunes—so rock out and raise your oxygen levels at the same time.

While improving your lung health might not be your top fitness concern, give it a try. You’re bound to notice how improving respiratory strength has a cumulative effect on the rest of your workout. You’ll feel better, calmer and more energetic—all just by breathing.

Evan DeMarco

Evan DeMarco is a leading sports medicine and nutrition expert, published author, public speaker and frequent guest on television, radio, and digital platforms.

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