Exercises to help breathlessness


To improve your breathing, you must first become aware of how you breathe. This is a simple exercise to help you become more aware of your breathing.

Being aware of how you breathe

First, make yourself comfortable. Sitting upright with your head supported is a good position to start in. Also, make sure that you are in a quiet comfortable room where you can relax.

  1. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your tummy.
  2. Sigh out and then breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  3. The hand on your chest should barely move, while the hand on your tummy should move up and down. This is the right way to breathe, so practise it as often as you can.

Improving your breathing

Once you are comfortable with knowing how you breathe, you can concentrate on improving your breathing. This is called controlled breathing.

  1. Put your hands on your chest and your tummy as before.
  2. Sigh out. This will help you relax and drop your shoulders.
  3. Now try and make your breath out twice as long as your breath in.
  4. It helps to count it in your head: in - one, out - one, two.
  5. Continue these exercises until you are comfortable and they feel natural.

Hints & tips: Pursing your lips

  • Pursed lips are a simple but good way to control your breathing. Pursed means to press your lips together. 
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as before. The pursed lips will slow down your breathing and help you feel in control.

It may help to make a whistle noise as you breathe out through your pursed lips. This will let you know that you are doing it right.

Incentive spirometer

An incentive spirometer is a device that tries to exercise your lungs and improve your breathing. When you breathe in with your mouth over a mouthpiece it makes a ball in a tube rise up. The physiotherapist will ask you to try to keep the ball up at the top of the tube for a few seconds by holding your breath. Gradually you can change the settings on the device to increase the level of exercise.

How does anxiety affect breathlessness?

Feeling breathless can be frightening and make you feel anxious. This is normal. But remember that anxiety can make your breathlessness worse. 

These are some simple ways to prevent you from becoming anxious:

  • Recognise when you are feeling anxious.
  • Find somewhere to sit and tell a friend what is happening.
  • Sigh out and drop your shoulders.
  • Concentrate on breathing in through your nose and out through your pursed lips.
  • Feel your tummy move as you breathe.
  • Stretch out your hands and wriggle your fingers.
  • Tell yourself that anxiety will only make you feel worse.
  • Congratulate yourself when you have overcome your feelings of anxiety.

If you would like more information on how to deal with anxiety, call our Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 and speak to one of our specialist cancer nurses about counselling services and cancer support centres and groups. You can also call into a Daffodil Centre.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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