Breathing Exercises

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2019. | Last updated: April 2019

Breathing exercises, a key component of pulmonary rehabilitation, are a type of relaxation technique that can reduce anxiety and stress. Breathing exercises involve taking slow, deep, and even breaths to relax and calm the mind.1

One of the most common symptoms of lung cancer, particularly in advanced stage lung cancer, is shortness of breath. Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, is a distressing symptom, causing patients to feel like they are struggling for each breath. Dyspnea can be a symptom of lung cancer, a side effect of treatment, or not related to the cancer or treatment at all. In addition to other forms of treatment, breathing exercises can be a complementary approach to helping relieve the symptom of shortness of breath.2,3

Benefits of breathing exercises for lung cancer Patients

Breathing exercises for lung cancer patients have several goals, including:

  • To correct breathing errors
  • To reestablish a proper breathing pattern
  • To increase the activity of the diaphragm (the muscle between the lungs and the abdomen that controls breathing)
  • To elevate the volume of air entering the lungs (alveolar ventilation)
  • To reduce the energy consumed when breathing
  • To relieve shortness of breath 4

A meta-analysis (a review of multiple clinical studies) evaluated research data from eight clinical trials to understand the impact breathing exercises have on lung cancer patients who had surgery for their lung cancer. Researchers found that patients who performed breathing exercises showed a significant improvement in their lung function, their ability to engage in self-care, and their participation in social activities compared to patients who just had surgery without breathing exercises. In addition, patients who engaged in breathing exercises had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are commonly experienced by patients with lung cancer. Breathing exercises may significantly improve quality of life for patients with lung cancer who undergo surgery.4

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Many professionals make up the team that are involved in pulmonary rehabilitation, and specialists may include pulmonologist, thoracic surgeon, physiatrist, internist, rehabilitation nurse, respiratory therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, dietitian, social worker, psychologist, recreational therapist, and case manager.5

In addition to breathing exercises, patients may be given medications to reduce their respiratory symptoms. Stretching exercises, weight training, and exercise machines such as treadmills and stationary bicycles may also be used to increase the patient’s endurance and improve flexibility. Smoking cessation (stopping smoking), stress management, and nutritional counseling may also be included in pulmonary rehabilitation.5

Other complementary therapies for lung cancer patients

In addition to breathing exercises, many lung cancer patients turn to other complementary therapies to help them cope with symptoms and side effects from treatment, such as yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture, hypnosis, and dietary supplements.

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