The best exercises for strong respiratory health
The importance of good respiratory health cannot be stressed enough.
After all, the ability to breathe is fundamentally what keeps us all alive. Our lungs are responsible for the process of breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide, but there are some factors that can make their job more difficult – pollution, smoking and lack of fitness can all contribute to our inability to breathe as well as we could. Likewise, there are certain medical factors, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma that can also cause our lungs to work less effectively.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to give our lungs a helping hand and exercises that will help strengthen their capacity and how well they work and helping to reduce the times you might have suffered from a shortness of breath.
Different types of breathing
That’s right, there are different ways to breathe! It’s something we all take for granted as we quite literally do it without thinking, but by practicing specific breathing techniques you really can improve your lung capacity. These are the ones to focus on:
Pursed lip breathing:
This type of breathing will keep your airways open for longer, helping air to flow more easily in and out of your lungs. To do it, sit or stand straight and breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Then purse your lips and breathe out through them – ideally it should take about double the time to exhale as it did to inhale.
The American Lung Association has concluded that this type of breathing will help improve the rate that your lungs contract and expand.1 Rest a hand on your stomach and breathe in slowly through your nose, noting how far your stomach rises. Breathe out through your mouth. Repeat this process, trying to get your stomach to rise higher than the last time – you should ideally be exhaling for around 2-3 times longer than you inhaled.
Focus on interval training
If you suffer from shortness of breath while exercising you might find it easier to focus your movement workouts on interval training, which alternates short periods of intense physical activity with longer periods of rest and recovery, rather than keeping a steady-state of cardio going. For example, rather than going for a 20-minute jog, you could run for 30 seconds and then walk for a minute, repeating this process for twenty minutes instead and giving your lungs a chance to recover in between intervals and ensuring you still get the health benefits of physical exercise.
The importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle
There are certain lifestyle factors and choices that will help keep your lungs healthy and enable them to be used to their full capacity and while breathing exercises and interval training can help, prevention is always better than cure. If you don’t smoke, don’t be tempted to start and if you do, consider trying to quit. Smoking has been shown in studies to have a major negative impact on how well your lungs will function.2 Drink plenty of water. Your lungs have a thin layer of mucus coating them and by keeping hydrated they will find it easier to do their job. Nutrition is also important, with studies suggesting that the ingestion of antioxidant vitamins may improve lung health.3
Above all else though, remember that if you have a sudden or unexplained shortness of breath, it’s always better to get it checked out by a medical professional. You are most likely going to be absolutely fine, but peace-of-mind is always a good thing.