Wondering if you can exercise with a cough? Not an easy task, I might say. The answer to this depends on how severe your cough is. However, it requires an open mindset, staying consistent.
Exercise is filled with many health benefits; it influences people’s quality of life both physically and mentally. Yet during exercise, lungs expand, and you breathe deeply to increase your oxygen intake. But, your lungs can’t do this if you have a wet or productive cough. Depending on how your body reacts, exercise can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, or fluid build-up in your lungs.
In this article, we will cover a few low-impact exercises that will help manage your cough.
1. Breathing Exercises
Lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or interstitial lung disease are often accompanied by coughing and shortness of breath. Therefore the exercises involved will be the kind that eases the process of breathing. Some standard breathing techniques that are particularly helpful for people with lung disease include:
Breathing using your belly
Breathing using your belly allows the ribcage to fully expand and allow air to reach the lobes of the lung hence efficient supply of blood and oxygen. This type of breathing provides strengthening of the diaphragm muscles and improves stability in the core muscles.
- Lie down on a flat surface and use a pillow under the head and pillows beneath the knees to keep you comfortable.
- Place one hand on the middle of the upper chest. Place the other hand on the stomach, just beneath the rib cage but above the diaphragm.
- Inhale by slowly breathing in through the nose, drawing the breath down toward the belly. The stomach should push upward against the hand while the chest remains still.
- While the chest remains still, exhale by tightening the abdominal muscles and letting the stomach fall downward while exhaling through pursed lips.
Pursed lip breathing
Though it requires practice and concentration, pursed-lip breathing is quite popular and often practiced by chronic cough patients. This exercise helps in slowing down breathing and therefore gets more air in and out of the lungs.
- Sit down on a comfortable surface;
- Relax the neck and shoulders;
- Breathe in slowly through the nose while keeping the mouth closed( you can count down from one to two) for 3 to 4 seconds;
- Purse the lips, like you are whistling;
- Breathe out the air in the lungs, steadily, through the pursed lips (you can count down from five). Do this for 5 to 7 seconds ( breathing out should be longer than breathing in).
Breathing exercises are very beneficial as they help reduce stress which is common in patients with chronic cough and increase energy by strengthening your body muscles. It also allows you to stay calm in body and mind.
Always consult with your doctor about the potential risks and benefits of adding diaphragmatic breathing to your treatment plan.
2. Exercises for mild coughs
While exercising with a mild cough seems to be safe, talk to your doctor before exercising, especially if your cough keeps persisting. Your doctor will advise you if you’re ready to get back to your workout routine or if you should wait a bit longer.
Such workout routines include;
- Cycling: Whether you are riding outdoor or indoors, cycling always increases the strength of your upper body
- Swimming: If the weather is suitable and you have an indoor pool, do not hesitate; a swim helps you stay in shape
- Jogging/Use ellipticals: Ellipticals are among the low impact exercise options
- Full-body exercises such as: rope Jumping, Calf Raising, leg exercises.
- Aerobics and Aqua-aerobics
- At the comfort of your living room, you can do a chair dance, some arm movement activities, or small dance moves.
- If none of these is working for you, or they are all quite exhaustive, try walking since it is as effective as running.
3. Controlled Coughing exercises
The coughing reflex is your body’s way of clearing irritants along the airways. To cough in a controlled manner:
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Place your hands on your stomach and take a deep breath through your nose. Inhale till your lungs feel full and your stomach muscles push outwards.
- Hold your breath for 3 seconds.
- Cough out 2 times. Sharply but shortly. This first cough allows the mucus to loosen and move it through the airways.
- On the third last cough out, cough deeply. Remember to cough from the lungs and not from the throat.
- Inhale again slowly and gently through your nose. This swift breath helps prevent mucus from moving back down your airways
- Repeat for five coughing cycles
For some more information browse our FAQs on how to stop coughing to find out how to stop coughing at night, or stop coughing attacks, and also how to stop coughing in children.
4. Yoga Exercises
Specific postures practiced in Yoga can help with creating a calming effect, staying relaxed and overall mind and body wellness.
A study in the International Journal of Bioassays involving 36 patients concludes that Yoga can be used as a therapy in patients with chronic rhinosinusitis.
Well-known Yoga lifestyle and expert coach, Sunaina Rekhi suggests some of these asanas to help manage cough and cold. They barely take much of your time and allow you to exclude pain and aches. Here are four simple yoga stretches which can help you manage your cough effectively:
- Victorious breathing or ujjayi pranayama
To do this, sit comfortably in an easy pose. Close your eyes and place your hands on your knees with your palms facing the ceiling. Keep your throat tight as you inhale. Hold your breath for about five minutes and gently exhale. Tighten your throat while you exhale and make sure you hear a hissing sound. Do this 3-4 times initially and then increase the number of repetitions.
- Mountain poses or parvatsana
To practice this, Sit in an easy pose and raise your hands towards the sky. Keep your palms facing each other and join both hands while inhaling, stretch your hands upwards. You will feel a gentle stretch in your abdominal muscles. Hold this pose for 12-15 seconds and relax. Repeat this asana about five times
- Skull shining breath or kapalbhati pranayama
Start this exercise by sitting in a comfortable pose with your spine straight. With your hands on your knees and palms facing the sky. Breathe in deeply. As you exhale, contract your belly, exhale while allowing your abdominal muscles contract. As you release your abdomen, your breath should flow into your lungs automatically. Take 20 to 50 such breaths depending on how you feel about the exercise.
- Setubandhasana or bridge pose
The bridge pose opens up the chest. Do this while lying on your back and bend your knees. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Exhale and use the strength of your arms to push your pelvis off the floor towards the ceiling. Ensure your body is lifted for three to five deep, consecutive breaths. Repeat the pose 4-5 times
- Other asanas include the child’s pose, the camel pose, and neck stretches
5. Behavioral Cough Suppression Therapy (BCST)
Behavioral Cough Suppression is a form of exercise that uses different breathing strategies to suppress a cough. In the American Cough Conference, Laurie Slovarp, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, associate professor in the School of Speech, Language, Hearing, and Occupational Sciences at University of Montana, explains how this kind of therapy helps patients manage their coughs, prevent their cough or even trigger their cough less often.
The four components of Behavioral Cough Suppression include:
- Education (e.g. physiology of cough and the larynx, lack of benefit and negative side effects of nonproductive coughing, cough (or laryngeal) hypersensitivity as a potential cause of the cough, and safety and rationale for cough suppression);
- Instruction in vocal hygiene including avoidance of laryngeal irritants and known cough triggers;
- Instruction in cough suppression strategies;
- Psychoeducational counseling (e.g. that control is possible, treatment is hard work).
A Research publication by, Laurie Slovarp, Bridget Kathleen Loomis, Amy Glaspey shows behavioral treatment to be effective in up to 85% of patients with refractory Chronic Cough (RCC).
Will the exercises work for me?
You cannot tell if it works for you; all you have to do is try. Always consult with your doctor if you have a crucial concern about your health.
Exercise may or may not work for you, so it’s wise to listen to your body before embarking on it, especially if coughing persists while you are exercising. Also, find out why you could be coughing after exercise on our FAQs.
Simple tips to help manage your cough
Always stay hydrated to allow your throat to remain moist throughout.
Avoid irritants that trigger your cough.
Do not rush while exercising.
Remember to sanitize and disinfect surfaces if you decide to work out in public spaces since coughing is the easiest way to transmit infectious diseases at the moment such as Covid 19.
Author: Marion Sereti|Linked In|
Marion Sereti is an Environmental Consultant and Freelance Writer on matters Health, Safety and Environment.
Choudhary, A., Choudhary, T.S. and Mish, R., 2012. EFFECT OF YOGA INTERVENTION IN CHRONIC R. International Journal of Bioassays, 1(12), pp.214-216.
Slovarp, Laurie et al. “Assessing referral and practice patterns of patients with chronic cough referred for behavioral cough suppression therapy.” Chronic respiratory disease vol. 15,3 (2018): 296-305. doi:10.1177/1479972318755722