Breathing Exercises for Cardiac Patients

Jun 8, 2009Updated 8 months ago

Most people take breathing for granted but as athletes, singers, and yoga practitioners know, doing regular breathing exercises has a profound effect on their overall performance. Now it is increasingly recognized that individuals with conditions such as asthma or heart failure can equally benefit from exercising their lungs and improving their breathing technique.

Breathing Exercises Help Reduce Symptoms

Individuals with respiratory illnesses often take shallow breaths causing chest muscle weakness, reduced oxygen circulation, shortness of breath and fatigue. Proper breathing exercises can help to reduce these symptoms as well as strengthen muscles, improve posture and mental ability.

Research has found that for individuals with cardiac conditions, in particular, breath training can have a significant impact on their health and quality of life. McConnell et al investigated the relationship between respiratory muscle function and exercise tolerance in individuals with heart failure and concluded that exercising respiratory muscles 'increased exercise capacity, decreased breathlessness, and decreased perception of breathlessness' (2003:10).

Hulzebos et al, found that respiratory muscle training before surgical procedures also reduced the potential for postoperative complications (2006: 1851). Both studies found that the overall benefits for individuals included less fatigue, greater confidence, more independence, and enhanced quality of life.

Types of Breathing Exercises

3 types of breathing exercises that can help develop new patterns of breathing and increase breathing efficiency include: pursed-lip breathing; deep breathing; and diaphragmatic breathing. Each method strengthens the chest wall and abdominal muscles and when practiced regularly, can relieve shortness of breath and improve breathing control.

Pursed-lip breathing helps to reduce trapped air in the lungs by increasing the length of expiration. Pursing the lips provides some resistance and helps breath exit slowly; deep breathing exercises help to expand the lungs and develop the chest muscles; diaphragmatic breathing focuses on the movement of the abdominal muscles and on developing an efficient breathing technique.

Breath Trainers

There are also a number of breathing trainers on the market. Variously known as lung expanders or breathing exercisers, these small, hand-held devices strengthen the diaphragm and chest muscles by providing resistance to breathing. Similar to weight training for the arms or legs, they make the lungs work harder. Because inhaling into the device is difficult, it forces the user to take deeper and more forceful breaths thereby gradually strengthening the muscles and expanding the lungs.

Taking 30 breaths twice a day will produce results in a few weeks of regular use. These devices come in various levels of resistance, from light resistance for general wellness or individuals with impaired breathing due to heart conditions and asthma, to strong resistance for high performance athletes.

Whether aiming to increase fitness and sports performance, general wellness, or as part of a rehabilitation program, regular breathing exercises or inspiratory muscle training can increase lung capacity, improve breathing strength, and ultimately result in a better quality of life.


  • Hulzebos, Erik PT, MSc; Helders, Paul. J. M. PT, PhD; Favié, Nine J. PT, MSc; De Bie, Rob A. PT, PhD; de la Riviere, Aart Brutel MD, PhD; Van Meeteren, Nico L. U. PT, PhD, ‘Preoperative Intensive Inspiratory Muscle Training to Prevent Postoperative Pulmonary Complications in High-Risk Patients Undergoing CABG Surgery', JAMA 6, 2006:1851-1857.
  • McConnell, Timothy R. PhD; Mandak, Jeffrey S. MD; Sykes, Jeffrey S. MD; Fesniak, Henry MD; Dasgupta, Himadri MD, ‘Exercise Training for Heart Failure Patients Improves Respiratory Muscle Endurance, Exercise Tolerance, Breathlessness, and Quality of Life’, Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, 24(1), 2003: 10-16.