As much as we rely on the air we breathe, it’s easy to forget how vital our lungs are to our well-being. As we celebrate National Respiratory Care Week, there’s no time like the present to pause and reflect on the importance of healthy lungs.
We breathe about 22,000 times per day. That’s a lot of inhaling and exhaling! Our lungs nourish our cells with life-sustaining oxygen and then aid in the release of waste products like carbon dioxide. How many deep breaths have you taken since starting to read this article? Our guess is at least one! And we bet it feels pretty good!
You see, as we move through our daily activities, we are not stimulating our lungs to act at capacity. Instead, we hover around 50%. By digging a little deeper, though, we can stimulate our lungs to release more toxins and even cleanse themselves.
Why is it important to exercise the lungs?
Our lungs are vital organs, and their health relies on their use. Many people develop lung diseases such as asthma and COPD, which can be debilitating. Whether you have lung disease or you’re trying to prevent future problems, incorporating some simple exercises into your daily routine can make a huge difference in your health.
Diving into healthier lung function? Try these simple exercises
Belly Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing
The diaphragm is a muscle that lies below your lungs. It does a whopping 80% of the work in normal, natural breathing. However, when you don’t use your diaphragm, as many people don’t, other muscles in the neck, back and chest are activated instead. By incorporating the efficiency of the diaphragm into your breathing, you will notice deeper breaths that may even work to calm your nervous system. In fact, if you have ever taken a yoga, Pilates, or meditation class, you have probably been instructed to do the following as part of a relaxation technique:
- Start breathing through your nose
- Place a hand lightly on your stomach or upper abdomen
- Relax the shoulders, neck, and chest
- Concentrate on the movement of your hand as you deeply inhale and exhale. Your goal is to see your hand move as your belly expands and contracts (an easy way to tell if you are using your diaphragm).
Simple Deep Breathing or Three-Part Breath
This technique creates a helpful visualization that will have your breath moving deeper into the body and expanding your lungs further. You will be, again, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Draw the breath in and expand your belly, then in the ribs and then the upper chest. As you exhale, move back down the body, feeling the contraction of the upper chest, then the ribs, and then contract the diaphragm or belly upward to empty the lungs. This counts as one deep breath, so repeat a few times and notice how you feel before releasing the technique.
Count Your Breaths
This technique is useful for lung health, but also helps with anxiety and stress. Your goal is to exhale for twice as long as you inhale. At the same time, you’ll be sending a message to your parasympathetic nervous system that it can take over, causing a relaxation response. If you find yourself at your desk and stressed during your workday, this exercise can kill two birds with one stone.
- Inhale deeply through the nose and then exhale fully for one to three rounds of breath
- Begin to count on your next inhale, starting with one and ending at four
- As you exhale, see if you can count to six instead of four
- As you move along and breathe for longer periods of time, aim to double the length of your exhale as compared to your inhale
Lung health is nothing to take lightly. If exercise causes you to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain, dizziness, or persistent coughing, see your primary care doctor immediately. Whether you have a diagnosed condition or you’re just trying to prevent illness as you age, taking care of your lungs is an important factor in living a full life.
Hancock Health sponsors a Better Breathers support group for patients with chronic lung disease and their families. For more information, please contact the Respiratory Therapy Services Department at (317) 468-4380.