Many people with asthma find breathing exercises to be helpful. Breathing exercises can improve asthma symptoms and reduce the risk of asthma attacks.
There are various types of breathing exercises that can help people with asthma. When you do breathing exercises for asthma, they can help:
- retrain breathing;
- increase the strength of respiratory muscles;
- improve the flexibility of the rib cage.
Breathing exercises are sometimes recommended by a doctor or asthma clinic. They can benefit patients with mild, moderate or severe asthma. They can also benefit dysfunctional breathing.
How can breathing exercises help asthma?
Breathing exercises can help your asthma by:
- improving lung function;
- reducing asthma symptoms;
- improving overall lung health.
Breathing exercise for asthma can increase your overall breathing control. They cannot prevent your airways from restricting. The better controlled your asthma is, the better you can manage your asthma symptoms. When you are able to breathe better, your quality of life improves.
Here’s how breathing exercises work:
Strengthen the respiratory muscles
Breathing exercises help strengthen the diaphragm and other muscles involved in breathing. This can improve the efficiency of breathing and increase lung capacity.
Asthma can be triggered by stress and anxiety. Breathing exercises, particularly deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, can induce a state of relaxation. This can reduce stress and anxiety levels. It can also help reduce asthma attacks triggered by emotional factors.
Increase breathing control
By practicing breathing exercises regularly, people with asthma can learn to control their breathing patterns. This can help reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
Some breathing exercises, like controlled coughing or huffing, can help clear excessive mucus from the airways. This can reduce inflammation, congestion, and the risk of infection.
Improve overall lung health
When practiced regularly, breathing exercises can enhance lung strength and capacity. They can improve oxygen exchange and increase respiratory endurance. This can lead to better overall lung health and improved quality of life.
It is important to note that while asthma breathing exercises can be beneficial, they should always be done in conjunction with an asthma treatment plan. They should also be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
7 breathing exercises for people with asthma
People with asthma report that breathing and relaxation exercises help improve asthma symptoms and quality of life.
Here are the 7 types of breathing techniques or exercises:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Pursed lip breathing
- Papworth method
- Buteyko breathing method/breathing exercises
- Nasal breathing
- Yoga breathing exercises
- Controlled coughing or huffing
Proper asthma management involves using medications as prescribed by your doctor. It also involves avoiding asthma triggers that can worsen your symptoms.
If you are unsure how to manage your asthma, consult with your healthcare provider or an asthma specialist.
A closer look at breathing exercises for asthma
Talk with your doctor, an asthma educator, an asthma coach or respiratory therapist before starting any new breathing exercises. Healthcare professionals can ensure the breathing exercise for asthma is appropriate for your specific condition and needs.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as belly breathing or deep breathing. It is a breathing exercise that involves using the diaphragm. This is the large muscle located between the chest and the abdomen.
Most people tend to breathe shallowly, using the upper chest and shoulder muscles. Diaphragmatic breathing allows for deeper and more efficient breathing. It can strengthen respiratory muscles and reduce asthma symptoms.
Diaphragmatic breathing steps
- Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose. Allow your belly to rise as you fill your lungs with air. Try to avoid raising your chest or shoulders when you inhale.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth. Allow your belly to fall as you release the air from your lungs.
- Continue inhaling and exhaling deeply. Focus on the movement of your belly and the sensation of your breath.
Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing
- Strengthens the diaphragm.
- Slows your breathing rate.
- Decreases the demand for oxygen.
- Uses less energy and effort to breathe.
- Promotes relaxation and reduces stress.
2. Pursed lip breathing
This is a breathing technique that involves inhaling through the nose and exhaling through pursed lips. It is commonly used to help manage shortness of breath. Pursed-lip breathing can be particularly helpful for people with asthma.
Pursed lip breathing steps
- Find a comfortable sitting position, either in a chair or on the bed.
- Relax your shoulders and place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Feel your belly expand as you breathe in. Try to keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
- Pucker your lips, as if you are going to whistle or blow out a candle (pursed lips).
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, as if you are blowing air out through a straw. Focus on making the exhale twice as long as the inhale.
- Continue inhaling through your nose and exhaling through pursed lips for several breaths.
Benefits of pursed lip breathing
- Promotes relaxation. The slow, deliberate breathing can activate the body’s relaxation response. This leads to a decrease in stress and anxiety, which are common asthma triggers.
- Improves lung function. Pursed lip breathing can help enhance the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. This leads to improvement in lung function and asthma symptoms.
- Reduces shortness of breath. Pursed lip breathing helps regulate breathing patterns. It can reduce the feeling of breathlessness during physical activity or in stressful situations. It can help reduce asthma symptoms and improve breathing symptoms.
- Promotes better endurance during exercise. By optimizing oxygen intake and reducing shortness of breath, pursed lip breathing can improve endurance. It can help people with chronic lung conditions exercise for longer periods.
Practice pursed-lip breathing regularly to gain the most benefits. You can include it with your daily routine or use as needed when you experience shortness of breath.
3. Papworth Method
The Papworth method combines breathing techniques with relaxation methods. It was developed in the 1960s by Dr. Thomas G. Basic to help people with respiratory conditions such as asthma. The Papworth method involves a combination of diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation techniques.
Papworth method steps
- Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down.
- Take a few moments to relax your body and mind.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise while keeping your chest still.
- Exhale slowly and fully through your mouth, allowing your abdomen to fall.
- Focus on breathing out completely before each inhalation (breathing in).
- Try to extend the length of your breathing out. Aim for a longer exhalation than inhalation.
- Continue this pattern of diaphragmatic breathing, taking slow and controlled breaths.
- As you breathe, imagine your chest and shoulders staying relaxed and still.
- Practice this technique for at least 10 minutes each day or as needed during times of breathing difficulties.
Benefits of the Papworth method
- Improves breathing efficiency and relieve shortness of breath.
- Reduces the use of accessory muscles that help the main respiratory muscles for breathing. This reduces the feeling of breathlessness and improves oxygenation.
- Promotes relaxation.
- Reduces stress, which can have additional benefits for overall well-being and can improve quality of life.
4. Buteyko breathing method
The Buteyko method is a breathing technique developed by Konstantin Buteyko in the 1950s. It focuses on breathing retraining. It reduces the depth and frequency of breaths. This can restore balance and improve overall health. By retraining the breath, the Buteyko technique aims to normalize breathing patterns.
The Buteyko breathing method teaches “nasal breathing” as opposed to mouth breathing. It emphasizes breathing through the nose at all times, even during physical activity. The technique also encourages diaphragmatic breathing, where the breath is drawn into the lower part of the lungs, rather than shallow chest breathing.
Practitioners of the Buteyko breathing technique are taught to consciously reduce their breathing volume by slowing down their breath and taking lighter, relaxed breaths. This slows down the respiratory rate. The goal is to maintain a light and calm breath pattern throughout the day, even during times of physical exertion or stress.
Benefits of the Buteyko breathing technique
The Buteyko breathing technique can be beneficial for people with conditions such as asthma and sleep apnea. The breathing technique:
- Reduces asthma symptoms by lessening airway sensitivity
- Reduces medication reliance
- Enhances overall quality of life
4. Nose breathing
Nose or nasal breathing can filter, warm and humidify the air before it enters the lungs. Many breathing exercises use some form of nose breathing. Here are some reasons why it can be helpful for asthma management:
- Air filtration: The nasal passages have tiny hairs called cilia that trap and filter out particles and allergens from the air. Breathing through the nose helps to reduce the number of these particles entering the lungs.
- Air temperature regulation: The nasal passages warm the inhaled air to body temperature. This makes it less likely to trigger bronchospasms or airway constriction.
- Air moisture: Breathing through the nose humidifies the air. This prevents the airways from drying out. Dry air can irritate the airways and trigger asthma symptoms.
- Nitric oxide production: Nasal breathing increases the production of nitric oxide, which has bronchodilator effects. Nitric oxide helps to relax and open up the airways, making it easier to breathe.
- Decreased mouth breathing side effects: When you breathe through your mouth, you are not getting the benefits of nasal filtration, temperature regulation and moisture. This can worsen asthma symptoms. Mouth breathing can also cause throat irritation. This can increase coughing.
People with asthma should practice proper nasal breathing techniques. These include:
- breathing in and out through the nose
- relaxing the jaw and throat muscles
- maintaining a slow and steady breathing pattern
Having difficulty breathing through your nose? Talk with your doctor about how to improve your ability to breathe through your nose.
6. Yoga breathing exercises for asthma
Yoga breathing exercises, also known as pranayama, can be beneficial for some people with asthma. These exercises can help improve lung function, increase oxygenation, reduce asthma symptoms, and reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Here are a few breathing exercises you can try:
- Diaphragmatic breathing is often used in yoga.
Alternate nostril breathing
- Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back.
- Use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your left nostril.
- Use your ring finger or pinky to close your left nostril. Exhale completely through your right nostril.
- Inhale through your right nostril, then close it with your thumb. Then exhale through your left nostril.
- Continue alternating nostrils for several rounds. Focus on a slow and steady breath.
- Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back.
- Place your hands on your face, with your thumbs in your ears, index fingers on your closed eyelids, and the rest of your fingers resting gently on your face.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose.
- As you exhale, make a humming sound, like the buzzing of a bee, by closing the back of your throat and allowing the sound to resonate in your head.
- Repeat for several rounds. Focus on the vibration and calming effect of the humming sound.
Remember to listen to your body and never push yourself beyond your comfort level.
Yoga Poses to Help Control Asthma
Yoga poses and yoga breathing exercises can help improve respiratory symptoms and quality of life.
- Sitting Mountain Pose (Sukhasana): Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Straighten your back, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. This pose helps to relax the mind and calm the nervous system. It can reduce stress and anxiety often associated with asthma.
- Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana): Get on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale, arch your back and lift your head up (Cow pose). Then exhale. Round your spine and tuck your chin to the chest (Cat pose). These movements help to stretch and open up the chest and improve breathing capacity.
- Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana): Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Then press your feet and palms into the floor, lift your hips, and clasp your hands underneath your back to support your weight. This pose opens the chest and helps to expand the lungs, promoting better airflow.
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana): Lie on your stomach with your palms resting on the ground beside your shoulders. Press down through your hands and lift your chest off the floor, stretching your spine. Keep your elbows slightly bent and avoid any strain. The cobra pose helps open up the chest and lungs, improving respiratory function and strengthen respiratory muscles.
- Fish Pose (Matsyasana): Lie on your back, place your hands under your hips, palms facing down. Slowly lift your chest and tilt your head backward, resting the crown of your head on the mat. The fish pose stretches the chest and throat, helps to expand the lungs, and improves airflow.
- Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Stand with feet hip-width apart and slowly hinge forward from your hips. Allow your upper body to hang towards the ground. Let your head and neck relax. This pose helps to open up the chest, improve breathing, and relieve stress and anxiety.
Consult with a healthcare professional or certified yoga instructor before beginning a yoga exercise routine, especially if you have asthma. They can provide guidance to ensure the poses are safe and suitable for you.
7. Controlled Coughing or Huffing
Airway clearance techniques such as controlled coughing or huffing can be effective in managing asthma.
Steps for controlled coughing or huffing
- Sit up straight and take a deep breath in through your nose. Fill your lungs with air as much as you can.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth, making a “huff” or “ha” sound. Imagine you are fogging up a mirror.
- Repeat this huffing motion two or three times, ensuring you fully empty your lungs each time.
- Take a normal breath in through your nose, and then cough moderately. This can help clear any mucus or irritants from your airways.
- Rest for a few seconds and then repeat the cycle as needed. Always remember to take slow, deep breaths and fully exhale before huffing or coughing.
Benefits of controlled coughing or huffing
- Helps clear mucus
- Reduces the feeling of wheezing
- Improves airflow in the lungs
Questions and answers (Q&A) about breathing techniques and breathing exercises for asthma
Here are a few questions people often ask about asthma breathing exercises. If you have any you’d like to see here, please email the editor.
What can I do to help my breathing with asthma?
Integrate breathing exercises into routine care! They can be helpful for mild asthma to severe asthma. There are numerous benefits. These include both physical and mental well-being along with improved asthma symptoms. Here are some ways to incorporate breathing exercises into daily practice:
- Talk to your healthcare professional about the importance of proper breathing for symptom control. Diaphragmatic breathing and pursed lip breathing are easy to learn and practice.
- Ask your healthcare provider to demonstrate proper breathing techniques for asthma. Have them observe your technique. Discuss which breathing exercises might benefit you.
- Find ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Breathing exercises can help you regulate external influences that make you stressed or anxious. Stress management strategies can also improve your quality of life.
- Look for wellness programs that include breathing techniques such as yoga exercises or tai chi. These practices combine physical movement with mindful breathing. They promote relaxation, stress reduction, and improved overall health.
Can you strengthen your lungs if you have asthma?
Breathing exercises can help strengthen the diaphragm and other muscles involved in breathing. This can improve your efficiency of breathing and increase lung capacity.
What other breathing techniques can help improve my asthma symptoms?
Progressive relaxation technique involves consciously tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body. This can help you achieve a state of deep physical relaxation. The technique is often used to reduce stress, anxiety and physical tension, which in turn can improve quality of life.
Here is a step-by-step guide for relaxation training:
- Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can sit or lie down. Make sure you are wearing loose and comfortable clothing.
- Take a few deep breaths to relax your mind and body. Close your eyes and focus on your breath as you slowly inhale and exhale.
- Start with your toes. As you inhale, tense the muscles in your toes and hold the tension for a few seconds. Notice the sensation of tension. Then, as you exhale, release the tension and relax your toes completely. Focus on the feeling of relaxation spreading through your toes.
- Move up to your calves and repeat the process. Inhale, tense the muscles in your calves, hold for a moment, and then exhale. Release the tension and allow your calves to relax.
- Continue this process, moving up through each muscle group in your body, including your thighs, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and face. Tense the muscles, hold the tension, and then release and relax them as you exhale.
- Remember to pay attention to each muscle group individually, noticing the sensations of tension and relaxation. Take your time with each release. Allow the relaxation to fully settle in before moving on to the next muscle group.
- Once you have gone through your entire body, take a few moments to simply focus on the feeling of relaxation. Continue to breathe deeply and enjoy the deep relaxation in your body and mind.
Practice progressive relaxation techniques as part of your self-care routine or whenever you feel tense or stressed. With practice, you can become more aware of the difference between tension and relaxation. Use this technique to quickly relax your body, calm your mind, and breathe steadily.
How can an asthma coach help with breathing?
Virtual asthma coaching is an innovative way for people to improve asthma self-management. Research shows adults with uncontrolled asthma who take part in virtual asthma coaching have improved asthma control and quality of life. They also have fewer doctor and emergency department visits.
What is an asthma coach? Allergy & Asthma Network’s Virtual Asthma Coaching program involves 1-on-1 personalized coaching. It includes six weeks of digital check-ins with a certified asthma educator. The asthma educator can work with you on asthma education. This includes breathing exercises and breathing training.
The program also involves remote monitoring of asthma symptoms. Patients use disease management tools on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Learn more atLearn more at AsthmaCoach.org.
How do I exercise safely with asthma?
Before starting any exercise routine with asthma, consult with your healthcare provider. Find out if the exercise you want to do is safe for you. Discuss any precautions or recommendations for breathing while you exercise. Many people with asthma who exercise regularly have an improved quality of life. Here are some exercise tips for people with asthma.
- Warm up and cool down properly: Always spend a few minutes warming up before exercise. This will prepare your body and lungs for physical activity. After exercise, take time to cool down. Allow your heart rate and breathing to gradually return to normal.
- Choose the right exercises: Some exercises can trigger asthma symptoms more than others. Activities that involve short bursts of intense exertion, such as sprinting, may be more challenging for people with asthma. Instead, consider exercises that are less likely to trigger symptoms. These may include walking, swimming, or cycling. Discuss with your doctor what breathing exercises or breathing techniques are best when you exercise.
- Pace yourself: Take breaks as needed during your workouts. Don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts.
- Use your inhaler as directed: If you use a quick-relief inhaler, make sure to use it as directed by your healthcare provider. It can serve as both a preventative medication before exercise and as quick relief if symptoms occur during or after exercise.
- Exercise in suitable conditions: Avoid exercising outdoors in extreme weather conditions. Very hot or cold temperatures, high humidity, or days with poor air quality can trigger asthma. Exercise outdoors when pollen and pollution levels are lower, typically in the morning or evening.
- Consider allergy management: Allergies can worsen asthma symptoms. If you have allergies, take steps to manage them. Avoid triggers. Take allergy medications as prescribed. And keep your living environment as allergen-free as possible.
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts. This helps keep your airways moist and reduces the risk of dehydration, which can worsen asthma symptoms.
- Monitor your symptoms: Pay attention to any warning signs or symptoms of asthma. If you experience any of these symptoms during exercise, slow down, rest, and use your inhaler if needed. If the symptoms persist, stop exercising and seek medical attention.
- Have a workout buddy or inform someone: If possible, exercise with a partner. Let someone know about your asthma and your exercise plans, especially if you are exercising alone. This way, they can assist you in case of an asthma attack or any emergency situation.
RUTHIE MARKER, MSRC, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, LSSYB, a respiratory therapist with more than 13 years of experience working in adult critical care, neonatal care, and patient education. She joined Allergy & Asthma Network to support the Not One More Life coaching program as a Spanish-speaking Asthma Coach. Ruthie has worked as a respiratory therapist in Texas all of her career and has supported COVID-19 efforts in Maryland and Arkansas.