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Playing flute is a way to build your lung capacity
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Playing flute is a way to build your lung capacity

Playing wind instruments can help improve lung capacity. The long period of exhalation builds stronger lungs say experts

Listening to HS Venugopal’s flute transcends mere melody—it offers the audience a divine meditative experience. For Venugopal, a 65-year-old flute maestro from Bangalore, it is also a breathing exercise that has kept his lungs healthy all through. Experts believe that regularly playing the flute or other wind instruments improves lung capacity.

Playing the flute has been akin to normal breathing for Venugopal for nearly the last five decades. “For me, playing the flute is like practicing pranayama (a conscious breathing technique). I have been practicing flute since I was 11 years old. In more than five decades of playing this instrument, I rarely developed a cough, cold or any form of chest infection,” recalls Venugopal during his talk with Happiest Health.

Playing a flute or other wind instrument engages an individual in inspiratory and expiratory exercises. This improves respiratory muscle strength, explains Dr Piyush Goel, senior consultant-pulmonology and Intensive Care, Manipal Hospital, Gurugram, Delhi. “The process is analogous to using spirometry,” he adds.

As Dr Swapnil Mehta, pulmonologist, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai describes, when one exhales into a wind instrument for a prolonged period it acts like chest physiotherapy. “Those who practice playing flute or wind instruments regularly are less prone to develop severe lung infections than those who do not exercise regularly,” points out Dr Mehta.

Blowing into the wind instruments requires one to exhale for long periods. Playing these instruments requires immense breath control. Experts advise that like singing, playing flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, trumpet, horn, trombone, saxophone, tuba or other wind instruments regularly for long periods can strengthen respiratory function and, consequently lung capacity.

Here’s how playing flute improves lung capacity

Breathing can become easy when one practices with flute or wind instruments regularly. Venugopal practices playing flute for up to 8 hours daily, believing he has never had trouble breathing. ‘Inhaling and exhaling is easy and smooth’, he adds.

“Playing wind instruments requires one to exhale for a longer period. This creates a positive pressure by clearing the airways,” says Dr Manjunath PH, pulmonologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bangalore explaining the airway mechanism. Agreeing with him, Dr Mehta adds that playing wind instruments regulates airflow in and out of the lungs, and improves breath control and the endurance of the respiratory system. Regular practice improves respiratory muscle function and lung capacity.

Dr Manjunath advises those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), individuals with breathing issues in the lower part of the lungs, or those who are recovering from abdominal surgery can improve respiration, oxygen levels, and lung volume by regularly practicing flute after recovery.

Playing flute has also helped many to overcome lung-related conditions. Venugopal recalls that 25 years ago a 12-year-old boy was enrolled in his institute for flute playing. “This boy had acute asthma. Based on the doctor’s recommendation, he began learning the flute to improve his lung condition. After about four years of practice, his mother informed me that his condition had significantly improved,” Venugopal said.

 

Practice flute for good breath control

The flute exponent, Venugopal, believes that rendering a soulful, soothing sound from a flute requires exceptional breath control. “This can come only with practice and the longest he has played until now is a 5-hour long concert,” he adds. He specifically mentions the staccato articulation that requires quick and sharp blowing into the instruments. “This fast breathing is like bastrika pranayama (a breathing technique with vibration) and helps in clearing the throat.” 

Besides, one needs immense strength to play wind instruments. “The strength-gaining exercises must focus on improving respiratory muscle strength,” points out Dr Goel. 

Breathing exercises especially diaphragmatic breathing and breath-holding exercises can strengthen the respiratory function, explains Dr Manjunath. A deep breathing technique, diaphragmatic breathing, includes inhaling deeply until the abdomen expands, holding the breath for a short time, and exhaling for a longer period. Such breathing exercises improve lung efficiency, adds Dr Manjunath.

Wind instruments can host pathogens too

Wind instruments such as flutes can breed bacteria and fungi if the instrument is not cleaned adequately. A 2019 study by researchers from the University of Nottingham published in the British Thoracic Society, UK reported that those playing wind instruments were 16% at higher risk of developing chest infections.

“Using a wind instrument that is used by a person infected with tuberculosis or any other lung condition can cause bacterial or fungal transfer into the healthy lungs,” warns Dr Goel. Also in some cases, the lungs can be ruptured leading to pneumothorax, he cautions. Those at risk include regular tobacco users, and individuals with underlying lung conditions, such as COPD or asthma. Blowing into these instruments for a long duration even as they are suffering with COPD or asthma can pressurize the lungs increasing the risk of rupture. Breathlessness and puffing are a common aftermath in such cases.

Dr Mehta also cautions that the instrument can attract bacteria or fungi from the environment with the spread of water droplets and cause lung infection to the person using it.

Takeaways

Playing the flute can improve lung efficiency, like any other wind instrument. Blowing into a flute for longer periods can improve respiratory muscle function and protect you from colds, coughs or chest infections. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing helps in playing the instrument well. However, the wind instruments can also be a dwelling place for pathogens and hence need to be maintained with utmost hygiene.

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