COPD Exercise How-to: Pursed Lip Breathing

For most people, breathing is a simple process they don’t need to think about. But for people with respiratory conditions, like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), feeling out of breath is a common barrier to activities, like doing chores, running errands, and exercising.

Asthma is a chronic lung condition causing inflammation in the airways and restricting the flow of air.

COPD is a condition involving the restriction of large airways and the breakdown of air sacs. COPD makes it more difficult for air to flow through the lungs and makes the exchange of gases less effective.

Older woman practicing breathing

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Respiratory conditions like these are often chronic. Still, if you have one of these conditions, there are some changes you can make to help strengthen your lungs. For instance, exercising, following a healthy diet, avoiding irritants, and stopping smoking all help to promote healthy lung function.

Simple breathing techniques, like pursed-lip breathing, may also help you better control your breathing to complete your normal daily activities. In this article, we'll review how breathing exercises help and the easy how-to.

What Is Pursed Lip Breathing?

Pursed lip breathing is a technique where you breathe in through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth with your lips puckered. This exercise helps to slow down your breathing and improve the intake of oxygen in your lungs.

When you breathe, you're inhaling oxygen (which is used to make energy) and exhaling carbon dioxide (a gas released during cellular energy production)

Pursed lip breathing helps keep tiny air sacs in the lungs (called alveolar sacs) open longer, which allows for more oxygen to be absorbed. This improves oxygenation, making this technique useful for people with respiratory conditions like COPD.

As COPD progresses, it becomes more difficult for people to control their oxygen levels. Practicing the pursed-lip breathing technique can help relieve shortness of breath and increase oxygen intake.

How to Do It

The pursed-lip breathing technique is simple to do. Still, it requires some practice to use the correct technique for maximum results. You can use this practice at any time, but it’s most effective when you’re focused and relaxed.

Try the technique when sitting up straight with your shoulders relaxed or lying flat.

Step 1: Inhale Through Your Nose

Breathe in deeply through your nose for at least 2 seconds. Imagine trying to fill your abdomen with air and not just your lungs. This will help you take a full deep breath that engages your diaphragm muscle (the muscle at the bottom of your ribcage).

Step 2: Pucker Your Lips

Pucker or purse your lips. They should be nearly touching, like when whistling or blowing out a candle.

Step 3: Exhale Slowly

Slowly exhale through your mouth. It should take two to three times longer to exhale than it took to inhale.

Step 4: Repeat

Repeat the inhale and exhale for three to five breathes. It may help to count you inhale and exhale in your head. Try for at least 2 seconds for your inhale and 4 seconds for your exhale.

Try not to over-utilize this technique, however. And discontinue the practice immediately if you feel light-headed or worn out. If the technique is repeated too many times, it could leave your respiratory muscles feeling fatigued or reduce carbon dioxide to too low of levels.

Benefits of Pursed Lip Breathing

Pursed lip breathing can help:

  • Slow down your breathing
  • Keep your airways open longer
  • Reduce the work of breathing
  • Increase the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • Increase endurance while exercising or completing an activity
  • Help you relax and calm your nervous system
  • Increased exercise tolerance for respiratory conditions like COPD

Other Breathing Techniques

In addition to pursed-lip breathing, there are many other types of breathing exercises to help control breathing and relax the body. Here are some other commonly practiced techniques:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing. Also called belly breathing or abdominal breathing, this practice involves engaging the muscles in the abdomen to fully expand the lungs and diaphragm downward into the belly. Your belly should fill and extend outward when practicing diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Pranayama. This time breathing technique is used in yoga and is also helpful for helping people fall asleep. To do this, you'll inhale through your nose, hold your breath, and then exhale through the nose for set lengths of time. A common pattern is a 4-second inhale, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds.
  • Sama vritti. Another yoga breathing technique, this one requires you to inhale and exhale through the nose for equal amounts of time.
  • Box breathing. A breathing pattern where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and again hold your breath for 4 seconds.

A Word from Verywell

It can be hard to exercise and complete daily tasks when you feel out of breath. Techniques like pursed-lip breathing can help train your breathing and make it easier to maintain control over your breath. If you frequently feel short of breath, talk with your healthcare provider about other ways to manage your symptoms. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the purpose of pursed-lip breathing?

    The purpose of pursed-lip breathing is to help slow down your breathing, decrease the amount of effort it takes to breathe, and help relax the body.

  • Why do pursed-lip breathing?

    Pursed lip breathing helps during normal exercise for healthy people, and it helps to improve the breathing of people with respiratory conditions.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nguyen JD, Duong H. Pursed-lip breathing. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2021.

  2. Cabral LF, D’Elia TDC, Marins DDS, Zin WA, Guimarães FS. Pursed lip breathing improves exercise tolerance in COPD: a randomized crossover study. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2015;51(1):79-88.