The Workout That Can Help Protect You in the Age of Coronavirus

The latest research shows that boosting lung capacity is one of the best ways to protect yourself in the age of COVID-19.

So today I’ll tell you how to fortify your lung health with a few simple, all-natural techniques you can do right at home.

Stopping COVID-19 before it starts

By now, you know that regular exercise is vital for good health.

But when it comes to protecting your lungs in the age of COVID-19, the type of exercise you do is crucial.

In a study review conducted in April, researchers found that aerobic exercise (walking, running, swimming, hiking, dancing) strengthens the immune and respiratory systems. 

Specifically, researchers found that aerobic exercise can: 

  • Lessen the progression of COVID-19 and complications like pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Alleviate key symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath
  • Improve immunity by increasing the amount and improving the function of immune cells
  • Improve respiratory system functions by acting as an antibiotic, antioxidant, and antimycotic (prevents fungi)
  • Restore normal lung tissue elasticity and strength
IMAGE SOURCE: Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

How much exercise do you need?

In one of the studies in the analysis, researchers looked at the effects of aerobic exercise on a group of older women (without any signs of respiratory illness).

They found that 20 minutes of mild aerobic exercise for 12 weeks improved lung function and elasticity. 

They also found that 40 minutes of mild aerobic exercise for 12 weeks significantly increased the strength of respiratory muscles, muscle performance, and exercise capacity, and decreased shortness of breath.

The authors of the study concluded that, “Increasing the aerobic capacity of people in the lockdown period is strongly recommended to decrease risk factors of COVID-19 and improve the function of immunity and respiratory systems to allow better body functions against COVID-19. 

“Thus, the performance of a routine of 10 to 30  minutes of mild to moderate aerobic exercises should be followed by all people in the lockdown or patients with mild pulmonary symptoms.”

An ounce of prevention….

Although there’s still a lot to learn about COVID-19, researchers also cited previous studies showing how aerobic exercise helps with similar lung conditions, particularly pneumonia:

  • Mild aerobic exercise, like running and walking, is associated with a decreased risk of death from pneumonia, respiratory diseases, and aspirated pneumonia.
  • Increasing aerobic exercise helps decrease the occurrence of pneumonia in women.
  • Mild aerobic exercises can produce a significant anti-inflammatory effect in patients with pneumonia, which helps to reduce pulmonary inflammation.
  • Short periods of aerobic exercises can prevent the occurrence of pneumonia and fever in patients with cancer.

In other words, if you want to give yourself the best odds of staying healthy or making a full recovery in these uncertain times, it’s time to get moving.

Retrain your lungs for better breathing

Another way to strengthen your respiratory health is to expand your lung capacity. You can easily do this with regular slow, deep breathing.

As we age, many of us stop using our full lung capacity, and instead, grow accustomed to taking very shallow breaths (also called “paradoxical breathing”), which mainly utilizes only the top section of the lungs. This eventually weakens them.

Another problem with shallow breathing is that it sets off a vicious cycle in the body.

Stress provokes shallow breathing, and not getting enough oxygen into your body causes stress. This lack of oxygen can then go on to decrease the stores of white blood cells needed to help your body fight off illness and help heal itself.

As an infant, you breathe deeply naturally. This is called “diaphragmatic breathing.” 

This consists of breathing in through your nose, and using your diaphragm (the blanket of muscles beneath the lungs) to fill your lungs with air. This ensures that your body is getting the proper amount of oxygen to strengthen your lungs and improve both your respiratory and immune function.

Here’s a simple exercise you can use to “re-train” your lungs to utilize as much of their capacity as possible when you breathe:

1. Lay down and place a light flat object on your belly. (I typically use a book, plate, or cutting board.)

2. Inhale slowly through your nose to the point that your stomach expands upward. Inhale until the object on your stomach cannot rise any higher.

3. Slowly exhale through your mouth and watch as the object fully recedes.

4. Repeat this cycle and this time see if you can expand your belly a little more so that the object raises a little bit higher.

5. Repeat daily for 5-10 minutes or as long as it feels comfortable for you.

In your day-to-day life, aim to adopt a slow, steady breathing pattern. Inhale deeply, count to four, and then exhale for four seconds.

Before you know it, it will become second nature.

A purposeful approach to a more resilient you

Remember, building up your body’s—and your lungs’—resilience won’t happen on its own. Optimal health is purposeful and requires consistent effort.

Not only does exercise act as a preventative against respiratory illnesses, it can also be a part of the solution.

I truly believe we can emerge from these unprecedented times even healthier than we are now. In fact, I discussed this same sentiment with Retired Green Beret Lt. Col. Scott Mann in a recent episode of the Sound Health Podcast. (Give it a listen.)

That’s why it’s so important to take that first step—however you can—to move your body.

Rest assured you’re not alone in this… I’m getting ready to lace up my shoes for a walk right after I’m finished writing this!

Brighter days are ahead. In fact, you’ll create even more of them with each moment you invest into your health. 

P.S. – If you want to add an extra layer of health benefits to your exercise routine, consider incorporating music or a sound healing exercise to your daily routine. Here are a few articles where I share some of my personal favorites for easing both my body and mind, especially over the past two months:


SOURCES:

Breathing Exercises. (2020). Lung.org. Retrieved from: lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/breathing-exercises

Hanada, M. et al. (2020). Aerobic and breathing exercises improve dyspnea, exercise capacity and quality of life in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis patients: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Thoracic Disease. 12(3): pp.1041 – 1055. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7139046/

Mohamed, A., and Alawana, M., (2020). Role of increasing the aerobic capacity on improving the function of immune and respiratory systems in patients with coronavirus (COVID-19): A review. Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7186129/

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.