Maximizing Lung Capacity

This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on February 23, 2020.

Dear COPD Coach,
If I follow my treatment plan, how much lung capacity should I expect to have on an average day?

-Strengthening the lungs

Dear Strengthening,
Generally, once lung function is gone, it is gone for good. While we cannot control this factor, we can control how efficiently our body is able to utilize our remaining lung capacity. A regular exercise program builds our muscles to a point where they work more efficiently and therefore require less oxygen, which in turn causes us to be less out of breath. I know that exercise for many is very daunting and frightening. Let's face it, when you are having a hard time breathing, the last thing you want to think about is exercising! Even if you have more advanced COPD, there are simple exercises that will not only improve your breathing, but also your overall health. For those with very limited mobility, there are simple chair exercises that can really make a difference. Talk with your doctor or respiratory therapist about exercises you can do that are safe, comfortable and effective for you.

Pursed Lips Breathing Your lung function can actually vary during various times of the day. Some experience more breathlessness in the mornings while others have difficulty at different times during the day or evening. If you need to do a pulmonary function test, schedule the test at a time when your breathing is usually better. Also, do not schedule a routine pulmonary function test when you are feeling ill or are recovering from an exacerbation.

Schedule activities during times when your breathing is better. If you start to get out of breath while doing activities, immediately stop, do pursed lips breathing, and when recovered resume at a slower pace.

One last thing, during times of high pollen or pollution, or in many cases extreme cold or high heat and humidity, expect your breathing to be more difficult; avoid going out during these times.

Remember, while COPD is not yet curable, it is treatable and in reality, you have a great deal of control over how much lung capacity you can retain.

Best wishes,
The COPD Coach

Coaches Corner is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to The COPD Coach.


You need to login to comment.
  • Just wanted to add my two cents regarding the benefits of exercise. I attend a respiratory therapy class 2x week and we do some modified upper and lower extremities exercises as well as some modified Ti Chi movements, and do feel more energetic and better after the class.
  • I have a comment, probably a question as well :) When I exercise and see myself getting short of breath, I do pursed lips breathing and it really does work. However, sometimes is as much work doing the pursed lips breathing as it is exercising, and I end up going back to try regular breathing. Does is ever get any easier over time ?
    • I have had shortness of breath while exercising also. I stop and do pursed-lip breathing then go back to exercise with regular breathing. I can't seem to do pursed-lip breathing while I perform an exercise. Maybe I need more practice. I don't really have an answer for you but I do find most exercise gets easier the more you do it. Keep trying
    • JonDaniel
      In time it becomes second nature, I find myself doing it without even thinking about. Just as breathing normally is natural to you know, PLB becomes pretty natural. Unless there is something else going on that is a problem for you.

      Just one point, when exercising I quickly get to a point where I am mouth breathing. I just can’t get enough air in through my nose. (FYI my pulmo is fine with this for exercise). Inhaling through my mouth doesn’t change anything. I still exhale slowly and for longer than I inhale. I am less conscious of the count and more conscious of doing the protracted exhale to empty out as much air as possible.