Studies show that moderate to vigorous physical activities for at least 60 minutes weekly may benefit a person’s lung volumes and expiratory flow.
If you want to improve your breathing, how can physical activity benefit your lungs? What kinds of exercises can help improve your lung function?
This article explains the importance of physical activity on your lungs and explores the various exercises you can perform to help improve your lung health.
Exercise is a great way to help boost your fitness, strengthen your heart, and improve your mood. It is also beneficial for your lungs.
Your lungs and heart work hard through physical activity to supply the oxygen your muscles need. In turn, your lungs and heart can become stronger, too.
Exercise can also make you work up a sweat that helps your body cool down. If you have sweaty palms, take extra care when handling exercise equipment to prevent accidental slips.
Read on to learn the benefits of physical activity on your lungs and what exercises you can do to make your lungs stronger and healthier.
How Physical Activity Can Benefit the Lungs
When you’re physically active and exercise regularly, you may notice that your breathing lasts longer than before.
This change happens because physical activity makes your body more efficient in getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to your muscles.
Some exercises can also help strengthen the neck, chest, and diaphragm muscles and the muscles between your ribs. These muscle groups work together to power your inhaling and exhaling.
Studies show that regular exercise and physical activity help improve your quality of life, whether you are healthy or have a lung condition. Many people associate being fit with maintaining a healthy heart, losing weight, and decreasing the risk of developing illnesses like diabetes. But exercise can also help keep the lungs healthy.
Individuals with lung diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) tend to use more energy when breathing than others. Regular exercise can help decrease their symptoms and improve their breathing.
COPD is a group of diseases that leads to breathing problems and airflow blockage. This condition affects 16 million Americans and includes diseases like emphysema (gradual damage to the lung tissues) and chronic bronchitis (inflammation of the airways).
If you have a long-term lung condition, the thought of running out of breath quickly may make you feel unmotivated to exercise. But if you are not as active, you may become less fit, making daily activities even more challenging.
In such cases, consider asking a doctor or physiotherapist for guidance before you start exercising. Doing so ensures that your exercise plans are safe and align with your capacity.
Aside from physical activity, breathing exercises can also help improve your lung performance. One study evaluating four breathing exercises showed that these activities might help decrease respiratory rate and increase tidal volume (amount of air a person takes per breath) in healthy individuals.
Physical activity can also help lower your risk of developing severe illnesses like lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Overall, you can benefit from physical activity regardless of age, body size, or whether you are able-bodied or with a disability.
Types of Exercises That Can Help Improve Lung Function
According to the American Lung Association, adults should engage in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity for five days weekly.
Healthy individuals can do moderate exercises by walking four to six kilometers (2.5 to 3.7 miles) per hour. If you have a lung problem, consider walking fast enough to make you moderately breathless.
You can keep your lungs healthy even in the comfort of your home if you don’t want to undergo a formal exercise program. Examples of moderate activities that you can do without needing to go to the gym are:
- Brisk walking
- Recreational bicycling
- Vigorous housecleaning
Muscle-strengthening and aerobic exercises can also benefit your lungs. Aerobic activities that can give your lungs and heart the proper workout to function efficiently include walking, running, and using the jump rope.
If you prefer muscle-strengthening activities, consider weightlifting or Pilates to help tone your breathing muscles, build your core strength, and improve your posture.
You can also perform breathing exercises to help improve lung health. When you have healthy lungs, breathing becomes easy and natural.
Your diaphragm does about 80% of the work filling your lungs with oxygen and other gasses when inhaling and removing waste gas when breathing out.
If your diaphragm isn’t working at full capacity, your body starts using the neck, back, and chest muscles to breathe. This condition can translate to lower oxygen levels, giving you less reserved air for exercises and other physical activities.
Breathing exercises, in particular, can help train your body to breathe more deeply and effectively and strengthen your diaphragm.
If you practice breathing exercises regularly, you can eliminate accumulated stale air in your lungs. This outcome also helps increase oxygen levels and get your diaphragm to help you breathe again.
One example of a breathing exercise is diaphragmatic or belly breathing. To perform this exercise, you must breathe through your nose and observe how the air fills your belly.
Breathe out through your mouth two or three times longer than you inhale, and relax your shoulders and neck. These actions can help retrain your diaphragm to take on the work of filling and emptying your lungs.
Before starting any exercise routine, consider scheduling an appointment with your healthcare provider. You can ask them what workouts you should try and how often you should do those activities.
Also, consider the following tips when exercising:
- Do some gentle warm-up activities at the start of your workout. These activities should involve the muscles you’ll be using during your exercise.
- Don’t forget to do stretching exercises to help improve your flexibility.
- Engage in exercises that help build your stamina and improve your capacity to exercise for extended periods.
- Increase your activity at a comfortable pace, and don’t be afraid to get out of breath in moderation.
- Improve your muscle strength through weightlifting or other similar exercises.
- After your workout, allow your breathing to return to normal and cool down by stretching the muscles you have used.
Your exercise program should allow you to exercise at your own pace and must build up over time to allow your body to adapt. If you reach a point where you become too breathless to talk, slow down or take a short pause if necessary.
The influence of regular physical activity on lung function in paraplegic people
Exercise and Lung Health
Your lungs and exercise
Exercise to Build Healthy Lungs
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Breathing exercises: influence on breathing patterns and thoracoabdominal motion in healthy subjects