A caregiver wrote that her husband’s cough was very weak and asked if there were any good exercises to improve his lung strength. Below is my response expanded to include a few other thoughts.
A few years ago my neurologist as well as my physical therapist gave me breathing exercises that will help improve lung capacity. I practice them every day and they seem to help me.
1) Sniff: While sitting upright (straight back) breathe through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Take a long and strong sniff. Focus on the sniff breathing into the abdomen (diaphragm) so that you can feel your abdomen expand. Exhale … expelling all of the air using your diaphragm muscle to empty your lungs. Practice this exercise at least once a day for about five minutes. I recommend early in the day because your muscles and mind need the oxygen.
2) Cough: Use the sniff above to fill your lungs and then cough hard trying to expel everything from your lungs at once. Practice this three times a day for about two minutes each time. This is a great exercise that will help bring up phlegm if you get a cold or pneumonia. It is also helpful in clearing out your throat should food become stuck.
3) Exercise: If you are not already exercising, start. Begin with some light aerobic exercises and stretches. Simple stretching and bending routines are excellent and should be incorporated into any exercise program. Easy aerobic exercises like ‘slowly’ lifting the arms and legs several times can be quite beneficial. With each repetition, focus initially on the breathing (deep breaths and exhalations with each movement) until it becomes a natural (comfortable) part of the exercise. Then begin to focus more on the exercises. Each day, preferable at the beginning of the day, exercise. Use the ‘sniff’ and ‘cough’ exercises mentioned above as a part of your morning routine. In the beginning, the length of the program isn't as important as the actual act of exercising. Well oxygenated blood flows into the brain and the muscles. Endorphins also start pumping through your system. What a great way to start each day. For me, exercising every day while breathing deeply probably helps the most.
4) Abdominal Breathing: When in bed, place your hands on your stomach. Spend a few minutes inhaling comfortably through your nose focusing on expanding the stomach (stretching the diaphragm as you fill the lungs with air). When the lungs are full, hold your breath for a few seconds. Slowly exhale the air through your mouth until your lungs feel empty. Breathe this way for five to ten minutes. This exercise is especially good in the evening and will help relax you.