Once a person contracts COVID-19, it may attack the lungs and respiratory system, sometimes leading to serious damage. COVID-19 frequently leads to pneumonia and even acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a serious lung injury. Restoration of lung function is possible but may require therapy and regular exercise months after the treatment of the infection.
The initial step towards recovery is by focusing on breathing. Here are a few breathing exercises that are known to help in the speedier recovery of people who have contracted COVID-19.
How can breathing exercises help people with COVID-19?
Covid-19 affects different people in different ways. The common symptoms that make breathing difficult are inflammation in the lungs and airways.
People who are very sick as a result of this viral infection may suffer from pneumonia as a result. This causes the lungs to be filled with fluid and mucous, making it difficult to breathe and get requisite oxygen that the body needs to function properly.
If the person has a condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or moderate to severe asthma, they may already have reduced lung capacity and difficulty in breathing and COVID-19 can seriously aggravate this further.
These conditions result in chronic inflammation of the lungs, which can worsen significantly in people who develop COVID-19 after contracting SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The entire respiratory tract is affected by COVID-19, further blocking the airflow. Asthma attacks can be triggered by it and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). People with these conditions can benefit greatly from deep breathing exercises that clear the lungs and strengthen lung function.
Deep breathing can help in other ways as well, including:
- Getting oxygen deep into the lungs, which aids the person to clear mucus and other fluids
- Strengthening the diaphragm, a major respiratory muscle located beneath the lungs
- Expanding the lung capacity by delivering much-needed oxygen to the bloodstream
- Aiding the person in feeling calmer, which can be beneficial in coping with chronic illness and recovery
Can SARS-CoV2 infection be prevented by breathing techniques?
COVID-19 cannot be prevented by breathing techniques and should not be used as a preventive measure instead of proven methods such as wearing a mask, social distancing, or vaccination.
Breathing exercises, however, can help strengthen the lungs, which may reduce the effect of COVID-19 on the respiratory system.
The following techniques reduce shortness of breath and improve lung ventilation.
Pursed lip breathing
Pursed lip breathing brings more oxygen into the lungs than regular breathing. It also keeps the airways open for a long time by decreasing the number of breaths the person takes per minute.
The steps mentioned below have to be followed to practice pursed-lip breathing:
- The person must relax in a seated position with the neck and shoulder muscles relaxed.
- The person must then breathe slowly through the nose a few times with the mouth closed (the nose warms humidifying the air before it reaches the lungs while breathing in through the mouth doesn’t do this)
- Before exhaling, the person must purse their lips as though they were about to blow out a candle
- Keeping their lips pursed, they must breathe out all the air in their lungs slowly
- The person must try to exhale longer than they have inhaled and repeat it multiple times
Any type of exercise that has the potential to make the person breathe faster as compared to not exercising, is considered a breathing exercise.
- Brisk walking
- Any activity that raises the heart rate and breathing rate
Regular exercise supports lung health. Healthy lungs can be the best defence against COVID-19 if the person contracts coronavirus that causes symptomatic viral infection.
What are the best breathing exercises for an acute case of COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Fever, with or without cold
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
- Runny nose
Or the person may have one of the following symptoms or conditions:
- Severe respiratory illness with pneumonia or ARDS
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty in breathing
- Lack of ability to taste or smell
In people with severe COVID, symptoms usually begin between two and fourteen days after exposure and resolve within two weeks. Some people have chronic symptoms, such as shortness of breath and fatigue for a long period of time after recovering from COVID-19.
If the person has COVID-19, they must talk to a doctor before they start breathing exercises. If they have shortness of breath when they rest, irregular heartbeat, or chest pain, exercising can exacerbate their symptoms.
In addition to pursed-lip breathing, some other breathing exercises can be helpful while recovering from COVID-19. They are :
Moderate or mild COVID cases can, for instance, be managed well by adopting the proning technique and using machines like oxygen cylinders or concentrators, especially at a time when securing hospital access is quite difficult.
Lying face down and breathing is called proning. As per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India, proning is a medically accepted position to improve oxygenation and comfort. If the oxygen level drops below 94, an infected individual at home isolation can lie on their belly as the position improves ventilation, keeps the alveolar units open.
- This exercise can be performed while sitting or lying down
- The person must first relax their face, neck, jaw, and shoulder muscles
- Then they must rest the tip of their tongue behind their top front teeth
- The back must be straightened and the eyes closed
- The person must breathe normally for a few minutes
- Following that, they must put one hand on their chest and the other on the lower abdomen and breathe deeply through the nose, feeling their chest and ribs expand as they inhale. The stomach must extend outwards against the hand
- The person must exhale feeling their stomach lightly contracting inward
- This form of breathing slowly and deeply must be repeated nine to 10 times
What are the best breathing exercises if the person has long-lasting COVID?
If the person is living with long-haul COVID-19, they may continue to suffer from symptoms for weeks or months after the viral infection. The symptoms vary but may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble breathing
- Lack of ability to exercise
- Brain fog
- Decreased or no sense of taste or smell
- Muscles or joint pains and aches
- Chest pain
- Periodic fever
Breathing exercises can help improve long COVID symptoms. They may also help to reduce the ongoing stress and anxiety caused by the symptoms of COVID-19.
The techniques for people with long-haul COVID are the following:
Yawn to a smile
The muscles in the chest are opened by performing this breathing exercise, allowing the diaphragm to expand fully. It also strengthens the arms and the muscles of the shoulder.
It must be done in the following manner:
- The person must sit upright with a straight back
- Then they must stretch their arms up to shoulder height. They must feel the muscles in their back stretching
- While their arms are at shoulder height, the person must open their mouth wide, as if they were yawning
- Then they should bring their arms back to rest on their thighs as they turn their yawn into a smile
Humming while exhaling
Humming, similar to the chant “om” in yoga, can aid in pulling oxygen into the lungs with each breath. Many people also find that it can also be very calming.
The following steps must be followed to perform this exercise:
- They must first sit upright with a straight back
- Then they must place each hand on the sides of their lower abdomen
- The person must keep their lips closed and rest their tongue gently on the roof of their mouth
- Following this, they must breathe deeply and slowly through the nose, keeping their lips closed and their tongue in position
- The person should allow their fingers to spread wide on their stomach as it extends
- The person must keep their shoulders relaxed and not let them rise
- After the lungs feel full, the person should exhale while humming. The person should be sure to keep their lips closed.
- This must be repeated for many breaths
Most people who have contracted and developed COVID-19 experience a full recovery, usually within a few weeks. Serious cases of infection can take a month or more to resolve completely.
Rebuilding the lung capacity can help the person recover, irrespective of complications such as pneumonia or whether they were put on a ventilator.
Each breath is deepened by deep breathing thus improving the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. The efficiency of the lungs can be improved by this.
The person can feel a sense of calm through deep breathing. This can aid in faster and a more holistic recovery. If the person is using breathing exercises to strengthen their recovery process, they must not rush things and should start slowly and build up to multiple repetitions and longer durations of exercising.