Dr Nikita Morwal provides a few simple breathing techniques to expand lung capacity while staying indoors

The lungs help in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is essential for the body to function. Lung capacity is the total amount of air that your lungs can hold. Our lung capacity and lung function typically decrease gradually, as we age.

Dr Aaron Waxman, director of the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, said “Your lung function declines with age, like other parts of your body. Your lungs finish development by age 25, and their function remains stable for about 10 years. After that, they begin to gradually decline.”

Various factors affecting the lung capacity

are smoking, pollution, certain health problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, asthma, which causes the lungs to function less efficiently leading to breathing difficulty and shortness of breath.

However, some exercises can help maintain and increase lung capacity, making it easier to keep our lungs healthy and get sufficient oxygen that the body needs.

Purse lip breathing

Amongst all the breathing exercises, pursed-lip breathing is the simplest one. This type of breathing exercise keeps airways open for a longer time and helps in slowing down your breathing thereby improves the lung function.

. Sit back comfortably and keeping your body relaxed.

. Now slowly inhale through your nose.

. Purse your lips together as if making a pouting face.

. Exhale slowly 'as if blowing a birthday candle'.

. Ideally, the exhalation should be twice as long as the inhalation.

. Do this slowly and repeat this cycle for about 10-12 times.

Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing

Belly breathing helps to improve the rate at which the lungs expand and contract. This type of breathing specifically focuses on strengthening the diaphragm muscle, which allows a person to take a deep breath.

. Sit in a comfortable position or lie down on the back and relax your shoulders.

. Place one hand on your belly and other on your chest.

. Slowly inhale through your nose and feel the air move into your abdomen, with your stomach moving out.

. Exhale slowly through mouth (pursing your lips) and feel the abdomen move inwards.

. Make sure that your stomach movement is more than your chest.

. Repeat this process of inhalation and exhalation at least 10-12 times.

Note: Try to keep the exhalation as long as or two-three times more than inhalation.

Deep breathing

This is a simple yet effective breathing exercise that you can practice to keep your lungs healthy. This breathing technique is very useful as it helps to maintain the lung capacity.

. Sit in a comfortable and relaxed position.

. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.

. Allow your ribs and your chest to expand fully and completely.

. Now slowly exhale through the nose allowing your chest to fall back to normal position.

. Repeat this deep breathing technique for about 10-12 times.

Belly breathing helps to improve the rate at which the lungs expand and contract. This type of breathing specifically focuses on strengthening the diaphragm muscle, which allows a person to take a deep breath.. Sit in a comfortable position or lie down on the back and relax your shoulders.

Note: Exhalation should be longer than the inhalation. Also with further practice, you can try to hold your breath for 2-3 seconds after complete inhalation, followed by 2-3 seconds of breath-hold after a complete exhalation.

Often it is seen that our respiration is affected when there is tightness of chest and upper trunk or even wrong posture that does not allow optimum expansion of the chest wall.

However, there are few stretching exercises of the upper trunk along with upper extremities which when combined with breathing will help to improve the mobility of the chest wall and improve the ventilation.

Stretching in an upright position

. Begin by standing in an upright position (shoulders relaxed)

. Slowly raise both your hands upwards and simultaneously keep inhaling deeply.

. Now hold your breath for about 2-3 seconds and gradually bring hands down while exhaling.

. Slowly come back to the upright position (in relaxed standing position)

. Repeat this for about 5-7 times

Breathing in an upright position

. Sit upright or begin in standing position.

. Inhale slowly and deeply allowing your lungs to fill with air and try to hold your breath for a few seconds.

. Now lift your arms and continue with deep breathing.

. Count the number of breaths (about 5-7 breaths)

. Slowly lower your arms as you exhale.

. Repeat this process for about 3 times. Note: Both these rib stretching breathing exercises involve your arms and are effective for chest mobility and also helps maintain healthy lungs.

Stretching of the chest wall or pectoral stretch

. Stand in a doorway and raise your arms to shoulder level.

. Place your hands or forearm on the wall.

. Push your body forward or simply lean into the doorway and keep your back straight.

. Inhale as you lean forward breathe out as you return to starting position.

. Repeat this for about 5-7 times.

Trunk rotation

. Attain relaxed upright standing or sitting position.

. Keeping your shoulders and neck straight, with arms stretched out and elbows bent.

. Now slowly twist to the right as you inhale.

. Exhale as you come to starting position facing forward.

. Similarly twist to your left as you inhale and exhale and face forward again.

. Repeat this for about 5 times on each side.

Side bends

. Stand with your feet about shoulder- width apart.

. Now stretch your arms out sideways.

. Bending over to the right side, take a deep breath in.

. Exhale as you come to the starting position and stand straight again.

. Similarly, bend sideways to the left as you inhale and exhale as you stand straight.

. Repeat this for about 5 times on each side.

Tips to keep your lungs healthy

Prevention is better than cure, and hence we should work towards making our lungs healthy by following few tips:

. Stop smoking

. Avoid second-hand smoke or environmental irritants like artificial air purifier, room fresheners, dust etc.

. Eat healthy foods which are rich in antioxidants.

. Exercise more frequently (30-40 minutes per session at least 5-6 times a week). Practice pranayama and breathing exercises regularly for about 10 minutes.

. Practice yoga asanas like tadasana, bhujangasana, trikonasana, etc. for chest wall expansion.

. Improve indoor air quality by keeping indoor plants like the snake plant, Chinese evergreen and areca palm that purify the air and act as natural air filters and reduce pollutants.

Dr Nikita Morwal is a physiotherapist and a certifiedYogatrainer

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