24 May

Exercises for Hyperexpanded Lungs - Everything You Need to Know

Hyperexpanded lungs can be a tricky condition to understand. Most of us would think of "hyperexpanded" to mean larger and therefore able to take in more air. We visualize the lung expanding like a balloon with increased lung volume.

The reality, however, is that this specific name (whether we call them hyperexpanded lungs or hyperinflated lungs) described a condition that makes it difficult to breathe, not easier.

Hyperexpanded lungs are a reality for those suffering from emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This issue can affect the lung condition, leading to airflow limitation in the lungs, shortness of breath, and other lung problem symptoms.

Either diagnosis can be devastating to an individual, with breathing difficulties creating not only a physical challenge but, in many cases, a mental and emotional challenge as well.

The good news for those with hyperexpanded lungs is that there are ways you can help yourself and improve breathing through specific exercises. There may not be a cure for emphysema or COPD, but there are exercises and treatments that can slow the progression of these diseases.

Adopting a dedicated regimen of practicing these breathing exercises can significantly improve the quality of life for a patient with hyperinflated lungs. Read on to learn more about these simple techniques that you can start practicing immediately.

Exercise 1: Simple Modified Breathing

The first exercise for hyperexpanded lungs is one you can do anywhere, at any time of day. By following this simple technique daily, you should see an improvement in your breathing ability.

  • First, purse your lips together. Then count to two as you inhale.
  • While keeping your lips purses, exhale, and count to four.
  • Repeat these steps for the next two minutes.

You may be wondering how this differs from "normal" breathing and why it helps your hyperinflated lungs. When you purse your lips, the air you take in is warmed and given added moisture as it makes its way into your body.

The warmth and added moisture then result in air that can be more easily filtered through the airway inside the lungs. (Ever notice how it can be especially difficult to breathe on a cold and dry winter day?) Also, when you force yourself to exhale for a longer time, it helps you with exhalation overall.

Add this technique into your daily routine whether it's at stoplights during rush hour, during a few minutes of morning meditation, or even as you enjoy a soothing bubble bath at night.

women breathing in fresh morning

Exercise 2: Diaphragmatic Breathing

The next breathing exercise for hyperinflated lungs is what is known as diaphragmatic breathing. This is a floor exercise that forces you to fill your diaphragm with air and be conscious of how you inhale and exhale.

Because you need to lie on the floor for this exercise, it's easiest to do it at home. You could use a yoga mat for added comfort and just be sure you have an uncluttered space to get down to the floor (and back up) without any obstacles that might cause a fall.

Always remember to get yourself back up slowly, as those short of breath may experience some dizziness when rising too quickly.

yoga mat

  • Lie down and then raise your knees, keeping your feet flat on the ground.
  • Place one hand on your chest; rest your other hand on your belly button.
  • Closing your eyes, breathe in slowly through your nose until you have filled your belly with air (approximately 3 seconds). Pay attention to your lower hand, which should rise from your belly button.
  • With lips tightened, slowly exhale as you feel your belly lower back to where you started (aim for a count of six while exhaling).
  • Repeat this process for a few minutes before getting up slowly.

Exercise 3: Elbows Back Breathing

Another technique that has proven to improve lung function for those with overexpanded lungs is an exercise known as "elbow back" breathing.

While at first glance it may sound like something that requires the skill of a gymnast or yogi, rest assured it is simple enough for anyone to do. A bonus of this exercise is the fact that you strengthen your arms while also improving your breathing!

  • In a seated position, place your feet so that they are slightly less than shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift your elbows until the ready shoulder level and then touch the tips of your fingers together at your chest.
  • Next, you will inhale slowly while pulling your elbows backward as your fingertips come apart.
  •  Once you have pushed your elbows back as far as they will go, exhale, and return them to the starting position.

You can repeat this process for several minutes and do it any time of today; this is an easy exercise to do while watching TV at night.

What Else Can I Do to Improve Breathing with Hyperexpanded Lungs?

These breathing techniques aren't the only thing you can do to combat the effects of your hyperexpanded lungs. Working in consultation with your physical team, you can adopt many healthy diet and exercise habits that will slow the progression of your disease.

While it's usually a no-brainer for those with lung issues, it is always worth repeating: stop smoking. This is the single best thing you can do for your lungs.

say no to cigarettes

In addition to quitting smoking, one of the best things you can do is adopt an exercise routine.

Exercise and Hyperexpanded Lungs

Overexertion can be challenging for those with lung volume reduction issues. Those struggling with COPD symptoms must be mindful of the need to manage this closely with a doctor.

However, this does not mean COPD patients cannot enjoy physical activity and increase their breathing function by participating in recreation and exercise.

There are several benefits to COPD patients when it comes to moderate exercise, including:

  • Improved sleep quality, which contributes to greater overall health
  • Increased energy levels
  • Improvements in the way the body uses oxygen
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased bone strength
  • Enhanced confidence and emotional outlook

The importance of the last item cannot be overstated. A COPD or emphysema diagnosis can take a huge emotional toll. The physical effects of lung disease coupled with feelings of despair can wreak havoc on one's health.

Exercise is one of the best and healthiest ways to boost a mood naturally. Getting outdoors in the fresh air, even for just a short walk, can significantly improve a patient's mood and outlook.

The DOs and DON'Ts of Exercise with Hyperexpanded Lungs

Most people with lung disease understand training for an Ironman race is probably out of the question. However, it can be tricky to discern exactly which exercises are helpful without being harmful.

You should always speak to your doctor before trying any new fitness routine, and each case of chronic lung disease has its unique factors. Be mindful of any chest pain, difficulty breathing, or chronic cough that appears during certain exercises to find a routine that works for you.

We have a list of ideas that are typically helpful for those with hyperexpanded lungs, as well as a list of exercises or sports to avoid.

The DOs:

Walking: One of the best low-impact exercises for everyone, walking can help you maintain a healthy weight and stay active. While it can be a bit challenging with breathing difficulties, start small and work your way up.

A short walk up and down your street for a few weeks could prep you for long neighborhood walks over time. You can also try to incorporate helpful breathing techniques with a step count. For example, try inhaling for three steps then exhaling for six steps, and repeating this process throughout your walk.

old couple walking

Stretching: This is another low-impact way to get exercise and increase your overall health. Stretching increases your flexibility and mobility, which will also help with all your other activities and your stamina.

You could try a simple 10-minute stretching routine in the morning and at night, or even try a yoga class for beginners if your doctor thinks it will be a good fit.

Aerobic Exercise: Those who remember the 1980s may picture high-impact Jane Fonda style workouts whenever they hear the word "aerobic."

However, this is a general classification for using large muscle groups all at once, while maintaining a steady pace. You could consider stationary bike riding as an aerobic exercise, and this is a good option (at a modest pace) for those with hyperinflated lungs.

Strengthening: A variety of upper body strengthening exercises can be effective when it also comes to improving your breathing; consult your physician about which strengthening exercises are right for you.

The DON'Ts:

Isometric Exercises: These are exercises where you push against an immovable object (for example, push-ups) and are generally discouraged with COPD patients.

Heavy Lifting: Extreme weightlifting is not advised for those with lung disease. This does not mean you cannot use small hand weights for low-impact training routines, if your doctor approves. Just don't expect to bench press large weights or take on any kind of extreme bodybuilding routine.

Outdoor Exercise in Cold Temperatures: You should always avoid outdoor workouts in cold, dry conditions if your lungs are hyperexpanded. It will be extremely difficult to breathe, and you should opt to exercise indoors instead.