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Breathing Exercises to Increase Lung Capacity

Not many people know that there are some exercises that can help increase the efficiency of the lungs. These exercises can alleviate shortness of breath, which occurs with decreased lung capacity.

The Lung Function

The exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen take places in the lungs and this is vital for human body to function (1). Some causes, which can reduce the functioning capacity of the lungs, are: smoking, age and pollution etc (2). Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are some medical conditions that can also drastically reduce the lungs’ functioning capacity (3).

The amount of oxygen a person hold in their lungs cannot be changed; however, with the help of some breathing exercises the patient’s shortness of breath due to restricted lung function can be reduced.

Breathing Exercises to Increase Lung Capacity

What Is The Benefit Of Breathing Exercises?

Just as “cardio” or aerobic exercises benefit the heart health, there are some breathing exercises that help with the functioning of the lungs.

Breathing exercises are highly recommended by lung specialists for patients suffering from asthma and COPD, as these exercises increase the strength of the lungs (4, 5, 6, 9).

NOTE: People with mild respiratory symptoms can benefit a lot from breathing exercises; however, patients with severe respiratory symptoms need to have supplement oxygen therapy or require a mechanical ventilator for breathing.

Breathing Exercises to Increase Lung Capacity (4, 6)

There are 3 important exercises that benefit the patients experiencing shortness of breath due to respiratory infections or chronic lung conditions. Patient should only perform these exercises when their lungs are healthy, so that they can strengthen the lungs and continue these exercises when they feel breathless.

Deep Breathing Exercises for Better Lung Capacity (8, 10, 11): The lung capacity can increase with the help of deep breathing exercises. According to studies, deep breathing helps in expelling the mucus from the lungs and increases the air circulation after a bout of pneumonia.

To perform deep breathing exercise: inhale and exhale deeply for about 10 times; after which cough strongly twice and then repeat.

Enhance your Lung Capacity with Pursed Lip Breathing Exercises (7): Pursed lip breathing exercises help in managing breathlessness caused by respiratory illness and even COVID-19.

NOTE: However, there is no clear proof yet of the efficacy of these breathing exercises in symptom management of COVID-19. So, it is always better to consult your doctor before commencing any type of breathing exercise.

Steps for Pursed Lip Breathing Exercises:

  • Sit straight with a good posture, as it encourages good lung movement.
  • Inhale deeply via nose in a controlled and slow manner.
  • Purse your lips so that they are almost touching.
  • Now exhale through pursed lips and try to exhale slowly in a controlled manner trying to keep the exhalation time double that of inhalation time.

Focusing on the time is helpful for some people, like inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 10 seconds by timing with the help of a watch or a clock is better.

Pursed lip breathing is extra beneficial for individuals who do not exercise their breathing muscles and live a more sedentary life.

Pursed lip breathing exercise helps in keeping the lung airways expanded for longer time and thus helps with the air flow in and out of the lungs.

Belly Breathing Exercises for Improved Lung Capacity (11)

Belly breathing exercises helps by enhancing the rate at which the expansion and contraction of lungs take place. Belly breathing exercises focus on making the diaphragm muscle strong, which can help the patient to take a deep breath.

Steps for Belly Breathing Exercises

  • Place a lightweight object or your hand lightly on the stomach.
  • Inhale slowly through the nose and observe how much the abdomen rises.
  • Then exhale through the mouth.
  • Inhale again through the nose and now try to increase or expand your stomach more than it did with the previous breath.
  • Now exhale and make an effort to extend exhalation more than each inhalation.

To prevent any tension or stress in the upper body, turn your head side to side and roll your shoulders forwards and backwards in between the exercises.

NOTE: For improved lung function, you need to do pursed lip breathing exercises and belly breathing exercises for around 5 to 10 minutes every day.

Interval Training Over Other Form of Exercises

If you are experiencing breathlessness while exercising, then a better alternative workout would be interval training. Interval training workout is comprised of alternating between smaller durations of rigorous and less rigorous exercise. Such as, you can walk at fast pace for about a minute, after which walk slowly for 2 minutes and alternate again with increased speed.

Similarly, strength training is also a good exercise to perform for 1 minute, after which you can walk slowly for a couple of minutes.

Interval training benefits the lungs by giving them some recovery time before starting with other exercises again.

NOTE: Whenever you feel short of breath when exercising, it is recommended to slow your pace for few minutes. You can practice pursed lip breathing till the breathlessness alleviates.

Can Breathing Exercises Help In Reversing Lung Damage?

Breathing exercises help in making use of the lungs to their maximum capacity and managing breathing issues caused by lung diseases or other conditions; however, they do not necessarily reverse the lung damage already done.

Lifestyle Modifications for Better Lung Health (12)

Other methods to preserve and improve lung health are:

  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Eating nutritious food consisting of green veggies, fruits and lean meat.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Exercising regularly or at least trying to stay as much physically active as possible.
  • Avoiding going into polluted or dusty or crowded places.

When to Consult the Doctor?

It is important to consult your doctor immediately when experiencing symptoms of poor lung health like breathlessness during normal activities, persistent cough and pain during breathing. The sooner the treatment starts for any lung issues, the better it is for the patient.


Belly breathing and pursed lip breathing exercises for helps in improving the function of the lungs. However, before starting any type of new exercises, even breathing exercises, it is always better to consult your doctor; especially if the patient is suffering from health issues like asthma or COPD.


Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 3, 2022

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