The Best Breathing Exercises For COVID-19
Breathing exercises can help make your lungs more efficient and may be beneficial for reducing the impact of COVID-19 before, during, and after a confirmed diagnosis.
The breathing exercises we outline in this article will not prevent COVID-19, but they may help lessen the severity of symptoms affecting your respiratory system. They are also helpful for relieving stress you may be feeling during this pandemic.
Benefits Of Breathing Exercises
According to a 2018 review, there is evidence that slow breathing techniques affect the parasympathetic nervous system, which can drive our “fight or flight” response in times of stress and also help calm us down.
Additionally, the review found slow breathing to be associated with reduced anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.
However, the authors note that more research needs to be done to investigate how effective slow breathing techniques are when it comes to the parasympathetic nervous system, as opposed these techniques combined with other methods (such as meditation).
Another study from 2017 looked at diaphragmatic breathing (which is another way to describe deep breathing exercises) and found that it has the potential to improve cognitive performance and reduce the impact of stress.
While more studies need to be done, in addition to helping your lungs become more efficient, breathing exercises have the potential to help you deal with the physical and mental impact of stress, as well as increase relaxation.
How Can Breathing Exercises Help With COVID-19?
As we’ve come to know, COVID-19 presents differently in different people. Inflammation in the lungs and airways are common symptoms that make breathing difficult. These symptoms can present with mild, moderate, or severe COVID-19.
People who get very sick from this viral infection may experience pneumonia as a result. This causes the lungs to fill with fluid and mucus, making it even harder to breathe and get the oxygen the body needs to function.
These conditions cause chronic inflammation of the lungs, which can significantly worsen in people who develop COVID-19 after contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the infection.
COVID-19 affects the entire respiratory tract, further obstructing airflow. It can trigger asthma attacks and cause acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Deep breathing exercises that clear the lungs and strengthen lung function may be especially beneficial for people with these conditions.
Other ways that deep breathing can help, include:
- getting oxygen deep into the lungs, which helps you clear out mucus and other fluids.
- strengthening the diaphragm, a major respiratory muscle located under the lungs
- increasing lung capacity by bringing much-needed oxygen into your bloodstream
- helping you feel calmer, which may be beneficial for coping with long-term illness and recovery
Can Breathing Techniques Help Prevent A SARS-CoV2 Infection?
Breathing exercises do not prevent COVID-19 and should not be used in place of mask wearing, social distancing, or getting vaccinated.
Breathing exercises can, however, help strengthen your lungs, which may reduce COVID-19’s impact on your respiratory system.
A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis of 19 randomized controlled studies found that breathing techniques, such as pursed lips breathing, reduce shortness of breath. Breathing exercises also improved lung ventilation, which is the ability of the lungs to expel carbon dioxide and stale air.
Any form of energetic exercise that makes you breathe more quickly is, in essence, a breathing exercise. This includes:
- brisk walking
- any activity that increases heart rate and breathing rate
Exercising regularly supports lung health. And healthy lungs may be your best defense against COVID-19, should you contract the coronavirus that causes the viral infection.
Best Breathing Exercises If You Have An Acute Case Of COVID-19
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- fever, with or without chills
- muscle pain
- sore throat
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- runny nose
Or you may have one of these symptoms or conditions:
- severe respiratory illness with pneumonia or ARDS
- shortness of breath
- difficulty breathing
- inability to taste or smell
In people with acute COVID, symptoms usually start between 2 and 14 days after exposure and resolve within 2 weeks. Some people have lingering symptoms, such as shortness of breath and fatigue for a longer period of time.
If you have COVID-19, talk with your doctor before starting breathing exercises. If you have shortness of breath while resting, an irregular heartbeat, or chest pain, exercising may worsen your symptoms.
In addition to pursed lip breathing, other breathing exercises may also help while recuperating from COVID-19. An analysis of multiple studies by integrative medicine practitioners found that Qigong, a practice that uses deep breathing and slow movements, improved pulmonary function and increased lung capacity in people with COVID-19.
Best Breathing Exercises If You Have A Long-Haul COVID
If you are living with long-haul COVID-19, you may continue to have symptoms for weeks or months after infection. These symptoms vary but can include:
- shortness of breath
- trouble breathing
- inability to exercise
- brain fog
- reduced or no sense of taste or smell
- muscle or joint aches and pains
- chest pain
- occasional fever
Breathing exercises may help improve the symptoms of long COVID. They may also help reduce ongoing stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 symptoms.
What’s The Outlook For People Who Use These Breathing Techniques?
Most people who contract SARS-CoV-2 and develop COVID-19 make a full recovery, often within a few weeks. Serious cases of the viral infection can take a month or longer to completely resolve.
Rebuilding lung capacity can help aid your recovery, whether or not you had complications such as pneumonia or were placed on a ventilator.
Breathing exercises deepen each breath, improving the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. This can help improve the efficiency of your lungs.
Breathing exercises may induce a feeling of calm — an important part of recovery and quality of life.
If you’re using breathing exercises to help with your recovery, don’t rush it. You may have to start slowly and build up to multiple repetitions during the healing process.
Aerobic exercise can also help strengthen your lungs significantly. Just make sure to go slow and talk with your doctor about the best time to start exercising again if you’re recovering from COVID-19.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who specializes in health and wellness content.
Printed with permission from Healthline.