If you know what Physical Therapists do, you know one of the big things we focus on are MUSCLES! I’m sure you have heard all about your glutes and your abdominal muscles, but there is one group of muscles you may not have heard that much about, because it gets a little neglected sometimes. These muscles are the ones that help you BREATHE! Yes, there is a whole group of muscles that help you breathe, and just like every other muscle in the body, they can be EXERCISED to improve strength, endurance, and control. Normally, you don’t have to think when you breathe, which is really awesome because if we did have to think, we would probably not have the brain power to do anything else. But when we do think about breathing, we can teach the muscles to work in new and more efficient ways. Once you do train these muscles to work better, they start working like that for automatic breathing too! We miss doing these types of exercises at the clinic because of COVID, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be done in a safe, COVID free home environment!

Now, you might be asking yourself, why does this matter? Well, if you notice your child becoming out of breath while trying to walk and talk at the same time, they might have difficulty keeping their breathing efficient while they are moving around. If your child frequently becomes quiet or holds their breath when trying difficult things, they may have trouble coordinating breathing with complex motor and cognitive tasks. If this sounds like your child, here are some exercises that may be helpful for training their muscles for breathing for greater efficiency:

  1. Sipping through the imaginary straw (Breathing IN through pursed lips): That motion your lips make right before blowing a bubble or drinking through a straw, when you push them very tight together, that is what pursing your lips looks like! Breathing in through pursed lips (the imaginary straw) increases the resistance you have to breathe against, which means that your diaphragm, the large muscle at the bottom of your lungs whose main job is breathing, can work toward getting STRONGER!
  2. Blowing BIG imaginary bubbles (Breathing OUT SLOWLY): This one has a similar idea, but instead of strength, it’s all about CONTROL! When your child breathes out SLOWLY, they have to control the speed at which their diaphragm is relaxing back to its normal resting shape. If you add counting to this as well, the task involves even more control and coordination because they then have to match the speed of their exhale to an external rhythm, which adds motor COORDINATION into the mix as well! If this is too hard, start with a small mouth, which will help decrease speed naturally due to increased resistance.
  3. Singing: Singing is AMAZING for COORDINATION and CONTROL of breathing. Someone who is singing has to match the timing of inhales and exhales to maximize how many words they can sing before taking each breath, which involves using breath control to prevent the air from leaving too quickly. All of these features are wonderful, not to mention that singing is so fun it has the power to bring a smile to anyone’s face!
  4. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing is always a favorite because it works on breathing control, as in some of the exercises listed above, but it also increases relaxation. For this one, have your child lie down on the ground with their hand over their tummy and make sure you can feel see belly move up and down with each breath. Tell them to fill their belly with air while they count for 5 seconds, hold that breath for 3 seconds, then exhale for another 5 seconds. Adding counting to your diaphragmatic breathing again adds an extra coordination component because it requires them to control the rate their breathing muscles contract and relax to an external rhythm. If the specific times listed seem too long, they can always be adjusted to fit your child’s current ability so that the exercise is appropriate for you. 

If you found this information interesting and believe these concepts may apply to your child, but would like a second opinion, come on over to KidPT for a consultation with one of our Physical Therapists! And remember, inhale, exhale, and you will go places!

Disclaimer: All information in this post is for educational purposes only. If looking for medical advice, seek a doctor or related healthcare provider.

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