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Breathing: Overview

All of us take breathing for granted for most of our lives. It is something we do 12-20 times a minute with little or no thought. We are all experts at breathing. Some of us, however, will develop shortness of breath, sometimes due to disease processes.

An important component of breathing air out is that the lungs “rebound” after we take a breath in. This is due to the elastic properties of the lung, and to the upward movement of the most important muscle in breathing, the diaphragm.

In COPD, the lungs lose their elasticity, and the diaphragm no longer moves upward as rapidly as it should.

The end result of these losses is that the work of breathing increases due to the extra effort needed to get the air out of the lung during exhalation.

For most of us, the diaphragm, located in the abdomen, is our most important breathing muscle. It does about 65% of the work during normal breathing. During times of exertion, we utilize the back-up breathing muscles, and most of these are located in the upper chest and shoulder areas.

People with COPD have a tendency to stop using the most efficient respiratory muscle, the diaphragm, and use the back-up muscles instead. These back-up breathing muscles are inefficient when compared to the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is also an important muscle for coughing. Because it becomes flattened in COPD, it no longer is as effective as it should be for coughing up mucus.

In order to help you overcome the shortness of breath and the difficulty in coughing up mucus you may be experiencing, there are a series of exercises and techniques to improve your ability to move air in and out of your lung, and to assist you in making our cough more productive and efficient.


Check with your physician before beginning this or any exercise program.

To learn more about these special breathing exercises, see the stories listed under Breathing: Overview in the Library Index.

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Last modified: January 10, 2004