Breathing Exercises for COPD

Quincy AdamCOPD Exercise, COPD Lifestyle, Exercise

Breathing Exercises for COPD
The progressive nature of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) makes it increasingly difficult to breathe during routine daily activities such as grocery shopping and getting the mail, which can have a negative impact on quality of life. Both shortness of breath and activity intolerance are two common COPD symptoms.

Breathing exercises and respiratory training aim to reduce these symptoms and improve the ability of someone with COPD to participate in activities of daily living with less fatigue. Remaining independent and continuing to be able to complete daily tasks can have a profound impact on both emotional and physical aspects of life.1

Current research also supports the notion that breathing exercises can improve the strength of respiratory muscles and increase the amount of oxygen getting into the body, making it easier to breathe.2

An Overview of Breathing Exercises

Practicing these four breathing exercises can strengthen and improve the endurance of your respiratory muscles which may improve your tolerance for activities throughout the day. Always check, however, with your physician before beginning an exercise program or attempting new exercises to ensure they are right for you.

Pursed Lip Breathing (PLB)

  • How To Do This Exercise: Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth with your lips puckered like you are blowing into a straw.
  • Potential Benefits: Research indicates that pursed lip breathing may improve exhalation by keeping the airway open longer. By increasing the amount of air getting out, you are allowing yourself to take a larger breath in the next time.3

Active Expiration

  • How To Do This Exercise: When you breathe out, create light tension in your stomach muscles.
  • Potential Benefits: Research indicates that active expiration improves the position of the diaphragm, a crucial muscle required in breathing, and increases the amount of oxygen available during exercise.4

Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • How To Do This Exercise: To try this technique, lie on your back, or prop yourself up on pillows. Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest. Push your belly out as you breathe in. The hand on your chest should stay still while the hand on your stomach rises and falls as you breathe.
  • Potential Benefits: According to the COPD Foundation5, diaphragmatic breathing exercises may improve the efficiency of how this muscle functions, making it less work for you to breathe.

Walking with Pursed Lip Breathing

  • How To Do This Exercise: When walking or participating in aerobic activities, practice using pursed lip breathing as explained above.
  • Potential Benefits: In one study, a 4-week pulmonary rehabilitation training program including pursed lip breathing during daily activities showed improvements in the distance covered in a 6-minute walk test and improved scores in quality of life measures. 6

How Breathing Exercises Impact Daily Life

Exercise intolerance, fatigue, and shortness of breath are characteristic symptoms of COPD that can have a drastic impact on your life or the life of a loved one. Routine daily activities become increasingly difficult tasks for patients experiencing these symptoms.

However, research has indicated that breathing exercises for patients with COPD may improve the amount of oxygen available to the body and increase the strength of respiratory muscles making it easier to breathe.7

Once breathing is easier, participating in activities may require less energy output. This can have a positive effect on various emotional and physical aspects of a COPD sufferer’s life. Further research is needed to determine the amount and type of respiratory training required to make lasting effects on quality of life but the available foundational research appears promising.


Enstrom CP, Persson LO, Larsson S. et al. Health-related quality of life in COPD: why both disease specific and generic measures should be used. Euro Resp J. 2001:18(1);69-76. http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/18/1/69.full.pdf+html2 Gosselink R. Breathing techniques in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chron Resp Dis. 2004:1(3);163-172. http://crd.sagepub.com/content/1/3/163.long

3 Gosselink R. Controlled breathing and dyspnea in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Jour of Rehab Res and Dev. 2003:40(5);25-34. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15074451, 3/21/15

4 Singh GV., Kant S. Breathing exercises as adjuvant in the management of COPD: an overview. Lung India. 2006:23(4);165-169. http://www.lungindia.com/text.asp?2006/23/4/165/44394, 3/22/15

COPD Foundation. Breathing Techniques. http://www.copdfoundation.org/What-is-COPD/Living-with-COPD/Breathing-Techniques.aspx., Accessed July 21, 2016

Singh V. et al. Pulmonary rehabilitation in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Indian J Chest Dis Allied Sci. 2003;45:13-17. http://medind.nic.in/iae/t03/i1/iaet03i1p13g.pdf, 3/22/15

Guell R, Casan P, Sangenis M, et al. Long-term effects of outpatient rehabilitation of COPD: a randomized trial. Chest. 2000;117(4):976-983. http://journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=1078757, 3/22/15