Breathing plays a huge role in our ability to maintain (or begin!) an active lifestyle as we age. Breathing difficulties can make anything from regular jogging to simply walking flights of stairs or playing with grandkids a challenge.
There are the usual things we do to get or maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as getting regular exercise and eating healthful foods. But these don’t address the issue of breathlessness. Breathing becomes an even more important issue if you used to smoke or have a condition or past illness that results in weakened respiratory muscles. Increased activity and heart or pulmonary disease might also contribute to increased bouts of breathlessness (dyspnea).
You may be asking, doesn’t regular exercise strengthen the muscles I use to breathe?
Surprisingly, not so much.
Read on for the why, the what, and the how of respiratory muscle training and learn how it can help you breathe better.
Why Train Respiratory Muscles
Research has shown that regular exercise, while resulting in better performance in fitness or endurance activities, does not materially affect the result of breathing tests. This means your respiratory muscles could use a regular, targeted workout, regardless of the workout you give your other muscles!
In the same way those who strength train with weights and focus on specific muscles or muscle groups, you want to focus on training your respiratory muscles to strengthen them and have them operate more efficiently to support your active lifestyle.
How to Train Respiratory Muscles
Much like you would train your other muscles with weights to add resistance, you can strengthen the muscles you use to breathe with some form of resistance training. This can be accomplished with a device specifically designed to strengthen your respiratory muscles. To find an effective one, it’s helpful to look at two key areas: the resistance mechanism on the device and the muscles it works.
Restrictive Resistance vs. Threshold Resistance
There are two ‘schools of thought’ for the mechanism used to strengthen respiratory muscles in breathing devices: restrictive resistance and threshold resistance.
Restrictive resistance operates by restricting airflow. This results in a reduced workload. You can imagine how it works by thinking of breathing through different sizes of straws. This method has been shown to be ineffective and, in some cases, can even lead to negative effects.
Threshold resistance creates an increased workload – much like you might do by adding weight to a machine or lifting heavier free weights. This increased resistance efficiently works the muscles you use to breathe, strengthening them so they can work more efficiently for you.
Inspiratory and Expiratory Muscles
You don’t work a muscle one way and not the other (e.g., you lift and lower when you do a bicep curl with a dumbbell). This same logic applies to strengthening your breathing muscles. You want a device that works both the muscles you use to inhale (inspiratory muscles) and exhale (expiratory muscles). This will effectively work respiratory muscles to achieve optimal results.
The Possibilities of Better Breathing
Better breathing means decreased breathlessness and more confidence in your ability to participate in the activities you enjoy and to maintain (or begin) an active lifestyle. It means breathing more efficiently and more easily. Plus, not having to work so hard to breathe would certainly be an incentive to exercise more!
Regardless of what you want to breathe better for, take a proactive approach to strengthening your respiratory muscles. In the case of PowerLung, it takes just 10 minutes a day to breathe better, so why not start working out your respiratory muscles?