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11 Breathing Tips for People With COPD

What to do for better breathing if you have COPD.
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8. Do breathing exercises.

There are two main exercises that are practiced in rehab to help people with COPD improve their breathing.

The first is pursed-lip breathing. Some people with COPD have particular difficulty breathing out. When this occurs, air gets built up in the lungs and the lungs can’t expand as well, Dweik says.

Pursed-lip breathing helps regulate this problem. To perform this, sit comfortably and inhale deeply through the nose. Purse lips (as though whistling) and breathe out three times longer than the in breath, but don’t force the air out. This technique can be used when shortness of breath occurs to regulate breathing patterns.

A second exercise is diaphragm breathing. This technique helps strengthen the diaphragm muscle so people use less energy when breathing. To perform the exercise, lie on the back with knees bent, one hand on the upper chest and another resting on the abdomen. When inhaling and exhaling, keep the chest as still as possible and use the stomach to breathe. This should be practiced for five to 10 minutes three times daily.

9. Get active.

Though someone who can’t breathe well may not feel like exercising, it is one of the most important things people with COPD can do to improve their breathing and overall health.

Exercise doesn’t directly change a person’s lung function, but it improves muscle tone and cardiac function, MacIntyre says. This allows oxygen in the blood to be delivered more efficiently to the muscles and increases stamina.

“Patients with COPD have different degrees of ability,” Dweik says. “Even if they are progressed, they can still remain active -- the more the better -- but their activity has to be moderated by their capability.”

Dweik tells patients to be mindful of their limits and not push through when they can’t breathe. For people with “symptom-limited exercise” he recommends walking a couple of blocks until they get winded, stopping to rest, and walking more when they can. Eventually, a person may be able to walk farther with less shortness of breath.

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