Strengthen your lungs with these breathing exercise

Deep breathing can help restore diaphragm function and increase lung capacity. PHOTO | GETTY IMAGE

What you need to know:

  • Deep breathing exercises can help maintain and increase lung capacity, making it easier to keep your lungs healthy and get your body the oxygen it needs.

Many people that have survived or have Covid-19 tend to complain of chest pain and difficulty breathing. This may be solely in because Covid-19, according to Leopold Buseruka Rusizana, a cardio Respiratory Rehabilitation Specialist, is primarily considered as a viral respiratory and vascular illness.

As its causative agent, SARS-CoV-2, it predominantly targets the respiratory and vascular systems. 

Rusizana says Covid-19 induces pneumonia in its early and late stages. The early phase is characterised by direct virus-mediated lung tissue damage, which is followed by a late phase when the infected host cells trigger an immune response with the recruitment of the immune system’s overactivation, causing a local and systemic inflammatory response. 

With the country facing the occurrence of other variants, strengthening your lungs would be one of the ways to overcome some of the side effects that come with Covid-19 or a countermove to cause less damage once you get it.

There are different deep breathing techniques that can help strengthen your lungs and these include:

Huffing 

A huff is exhaling through an open mouth and throat instead of coughing. It helps move sputum up your airways so that you can clear it in a controlled way. To ‘huff’, squeeze air quickly from your lungs, out through your open mouth and throat, as if you were trying to mist up a mirror or your glasses. 

“Use your tummy muscles to help you squeeze the air out, but do not force it so much that you cause wheezing or tightness in the chest. Huffing should always be followed by breathing control,” Rusizana says.

Pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing, according to ProFysio Physical Therapy, works by transporting oxygen into the lungs and carbon dioxide out of the lungs. It effectively allows the airways to stay open longer and removes air that might be trapped in the lungs through slower breaths. It also provides relief from shortness of breath. 

“Breathe in slowly through your nose for two counts while keeping the mouth closed. Continue by taking a normal breath. Next, purse the lips as if you are about to whistle and breathe out of the mouth. You will soon find that you have a new sense of control over shortness of breath and your lungs feel stronger,” the extract states.

Controlled breathing

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), this technique will help you relax and control your breathing. 

“Sit in a comfortable and supported position and put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Slowly breathe in through your nose and then out through your mouth.  As you breathe, you will feel the hand on your stomach rise more than the hand on your chest. Try to use as little effort as possible and make your breaths slow, relaxed, and smooth,” WHO states. 

4-7-8 breathing

Utilising the 4-7-8 breathing method is a great way to manage anxiety, improve sleep patterns, manage emotional responses, and regulate breathing patterns. 

“Exhale completely through the mouth. Next, close the mouth and inhale quietly through the nose while counting to four. Hold the breath for a count of seven, and exhale completely counting to eight. (you can make an audible “whoosh” sound in the process),” an extract from ProFysio Physical Therapy, states.

Paced breathing 

The practice is useful when carrying out activities that might take more effort or make you breathless such as climbing the stairs or walking uphill. It is important to remember that there is no need to rush. 

ProFysio advises to think about breaking the activity down into smaller parts to make it easier to carry out without getting tired or breathless at the end.

“Breathe in before starting the activity, such as before you climb up a step. Breathe out while making the effort, such as climbing up a step”. 

You may find it helpful to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Humming

Humming while exhaling helps increase nitric oxide in the body, which helps build and repair the nervous system, dilates the blood vessels, and enables more oxygen to be delivered throughout the body. 

To practise humming in a way that benefits your lungs, sit upright on the edge of your bed or on a stable chair. Then, place your hands around the sides of the stomach. Close your lips and place your tongue on the roof of the mouth. Breathe in through the nose while pulling air into the stomach at the location of your hands. Spread your fingers apart with your breath as much as you can. When you feel that your lungs are full, close the lips and exhale while humming. Feel free to take the liberty of making an actual humming noise at this step. Your hands should naturally lower back down. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose while humming again, and repeat for one minute or until desired state is achieved.

While these exercises can benefit anyone, they can also help a Covid-19 survivor by increasing lung capacity. These deep breathing techniques can also reduce stress, relieve pain, improve immunity and stimulate the lymphatic system.

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