FUNdamental 1: Exercising the Full Lung Capacity

By: Nikki Carrion MA
With a New Year comes the opportunity to get creative. So…let’s go for it!

The 1st -FitXpress blog provided an overview of what we call the FUNdamentals of FUNctional FITness. If you missed it…please look back in an effort to familiarize yourself. Consider introducing these fundamentals to your residents/patients (R/Ps) as you come to understand them yourself…1-at-a-time in the coming months. A building block approach such as this will allow R/Ps to gradually incorporate healthy habits that will work together serve to not only improve functional fitness, but quality of life.
The first of the F’s is the idea of exercising the full lung capacity, which is essential for all of us! “Why do it?” Our breath…is fundamental to our survival. There are many things we need for survival (e.g. air, food, water and shelter), but air is the vital force we simply cannot do without. We can indeed live without food, water and shelter for a period of time. However, we can survive only a matter of minutes without air. And…the majority of us are shallow breathers by nature. This means the breath comes into the upper lobes of the lungs…and back out it goes. This means the lower lobes of the lungs are getting little-to-no exercise. As a result, the lower lobes gradually lose capacity and CO² waste builds up in this area of the lungs as well.

Research shows exercising the full lung capacity to be associated with:
1. Maintaining and/or increasing lung function.
2. Maintaining and/or decreasing blood pressure.
3. Eliminating CO² waste from the lower lobes of the lungs.
4. Creating the relaxation response, which in turn is shown to improve sleep patterns and reduce anxiety.

“How is it done?” The method is simple and can be done one-on-one or in a group, seated or lying down. If taught in a seated position, R/Ps should be also be encouraged to perform the breaths outside of class while lying down in an effort to lengthen the torso and pull the lungs away from the diaphragm…providing access to the full lung capacity.

When working from a seated position…begin with a good visual. Ask R/P(s) to “visualize a string coming down from the ceiling”. Go on to say, “the string is attached to the top of your head and it is pulling you up like a puppet-on-a-string”. Repeat if you feel the need. With proper alignment in place…the exercise begins (NOTE: Begin at this point if working with an R/P who is lying down) as the R/Ps are asked to “pull your breath in through your nose…and very slowly let it back out. Nice…long…exhale.” Discourage R/Ps from pulling their shoulders up, common mistake, and thereby creating tension in the neck, shoulders & upper back. Ask them to “breath in…keeping your shoulders relaxed and feeling the breath coming all the way down into your ribcage and belly area. Feel your ribcage expanding…front, sides and back. Pull air in…and when your lungs feel completely full…make a small opening in your mouth as if you are holding onto a small straw. Let the air sneak out very slowly…and at the end of your breath push…push…push the air all the way out. When you think your lungs are completely empty…push just a little more.”
“What else should I be aware of?” Be aware that distraction plays a significant role, especially when performed in a group. This is because everyone’s lung capacity in unique. With this in mind, Mary would not realistically be breathing at the same rate as Dan. However, when sitting in close proximity…participants inadvertently end up playing follow-the–leader, almost a knee-jerk reaction of sorts. So…reduce those distractions by having R/Ps close their eyes. That is…after you get them started by suggesting they…“Sit up nice-and-tall and relax your hands onto your lap. Now…breathe in until your lungs are completely full…and then very slowly exhale until your lungs are completely empty, not allowing yourself to be distracted by anyone…or anything. As you breathe…focus on the idea of positive energy in…and negative energy out with each…and every breath. Practice positive self-talk as you breathe saying, positive energy in as you breathe in…and repeat negative energy out…negative energy out several times as you breathe out. That’s it, positive energy in…negative energy out…negative energy out”.
“What do I need to know before I start?” Before this practice is implemented, you as the leader want to read, rehearse and remember the benefits associated with performing these breaths each-and-every day. In addition, know that light-headedness is a common occurrence. This is nothing to fear or be alarmed about. Instead, understand that it is simply a natural reaction to an increased level of O² in the blood stream. Help R/Ps understand that their body will adapt with time and consistent efforts. In a calm and reassuring voice, let R/Ps know that “becoming light-headed is a common occurrence. Don’t be alarmed by this. We’ll work together to slowly get your body used to this new healthy habit. Let’s do some deep breaths, and as you breathe…count your breaths, listen to your body and notice when you begin to feel any strange sensations (e.g. lightheadedness or dizziness). If…by the 3rd breath you begin to feel it…stop there and plan to do only 3 breaths at any given time…until your body gets used to doing 3. After doing 3 for a few days…try 4. If 4 seems OK…your body is telling you it’s adapting. Do 4 for a few days, and then try 5. Move on, adding 1 breath-at- a-time until you are doing about 10 breaths each time. Do this 2-3 times a day, working to adapt to a new healthy habit…always thinking about all of the associated benefits.” As the leader, encourage your R/Ps by repeating the associated benefits periodically.
Many of you are probably reading…and trying it yourself already! If so…kudos to you! For those who simply don’t want to wait to learn this and much more, consider the NCCAP-approved training module entitled “Steps to Better Balance & Fall Prevention”. The module is approved for 8 CEUs and is available only from FitXpress. For more details, call me toll-free at 1-800-418-7449 x802 or email me at

I look forward to the next time…when we will discuss FUNdamental #2…flexibility.

Until then, be healthy…be happy!