Breathing exercises work to help improve lung capacity and they are beneficial whether you contract COVID-19 or not. Just as exercising the body works to enhance muscle strength, breathing exercises help to strengthen the lungs. Improving lung function is beneficial for overall health, but also for people with or recovering from COVID-19.
Benefits Of Breathing Exercises
Several studies indicate that slow breathing exercises positively affect the parasympathetic nervous system. This system can both drive the fight or flight response or calm the body down. Deep breathing, specifically, works to restore diaphragm function and enhance lung capacity. Breathing exercises also work to reduce feelings of stress or anxiety. In a world of uncertainty and the fear of COVID-19, reducing anxiety levels has proven to be an excellent mode of self-care.
One study from 2017 examined diaphragmatic breathing, a deep breathing exercise, and found that it had the ability to improve cognitive performance. Not only that, but diaphragmatic breathing also reduced the impact of stress. With the current pandemic, more and more lung experts have examined how breathing exercises benefit COVID+ patients, or those recovering from the illness.
Can Breathing Exercises Help With COVID-19?
COVID-19 presents itself differently in every person. Some people are asymptomatic, while others require hospital admission. COVID-19 can inflame the lungs and airways, making it difficult to breathe. This can lead to mild, moderate, or severe infection, and even increase the risk of developing pneumonia. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma may already have reduced lung capacity and difficulty breathing. This makes it more dangerous if they do contract COVID-19. Enhancing lung capacity with deep breathing exercises, then, is especially beneficial for people with those conditions.
Although breathing exercises do not prevent COVID-19, they can help to strengthen the lungs, ultimately reducing the impact of COVID-19 on the respiratory system. Another thing to note is that breathing exercises should not replace mask wearing if you are COVID+ or have been exposed. Breathing exercises do, however, work to improve lung ventilation, which is the ability of the lungs to expel carbon dioxide and stale air.
Pursed Lip Breathing
This breathing exercise helps to oxygenate your lungs better than regular breathing. It involves keeping the airways open longer by reducing the number of breaths you take per minute. To engage in pursed lip breathing, sit in a relaxed position with your back straight. Close your mouth and inhale deeply through your nose for several counts. Before exhaling, purse your lips and keep them pursed as you slowly breathe the air out of your lungs. Try to exhale for a longer count than your inhale was. Repeat several times.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is an exercise that helps to improve diaphragm function. It aims to get more air to the base of the lungs to make breathing a lot easier. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and place the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth. Breathe normally and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Breathe in through your nose and expand your ribs, feeling the stomach expand outwards. As you exhale, stretch the stomach inwards. Continue breathing in this fashion up to 10 times.
Possibly the best breathing exercise to boost lung capacity, pranayama works to regulate your breath and soothe the nerves. It’s best to do this exercise on an empty stomach, so do not eat beforehand. Sit down in a cross-legged position and keep your back straight. Inhale deeply to stretch the spine and lean forward slightly to elongate the body. Slowly exhale and return to the starting position. Repeat at least 10 times.
Dr. Munshi’s Technique
A British doctor, Dr. Sarfaraz Munshi, demonstrated this breathing method to help COVID+ patients. In a seated position with your back straight, take a deep breath and hold it for five seconds. Release the breath and then repeat four more times to complete five total breaths. Take a sixth breath and cough strongly at the end of it, while being cautious to cover your mouth. Those six breaths represent one cycle and you should repeat it twice.