COVID and breathing exercises
We spoke to Dr Rajesh Chawla, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, to understand how breathing exercises can be beneficial in these times. “Breathing exercises don’t really help but posture changes do help if a person has low oxygen levels. If the person lies on his belly, facing the bed in a prone position, it opens up a lot of extra area in the lungs and helps in breathing. The best way to practice this for better breathing is 2 hours of lying down in a left lateral position, 2 hours of lying down in a right lateral position, 2 hours in prone position and the 2 hours on your back. This can be done once a day to ease the breathing process. This is highly recommended for COVID positive patients who experience breathlessness.” He warns that whenever a person is experiencing low oxygen, they should not be doing any heavy breathing exercises. For people who are COVID positive or patients with pre-existing respiratory ailments like asthma, Pranayam that involves forceful breathing is not advisable.
To put it simply, breathing control practices are advised to maintain the capacity and the health of the lungs. But for COVID positive patients, forceful pranayama is not advisable, slow walks in the room and “Anulom Vilom” can be practiced.
A leading Ayurvedic doctor advises everyone who suddenly wants to practice pranayama to protect themselves from COVID or to recover faster, to wait for a while. “If you have been doing it regularly, it is okay to continue but do not force yourself to do it if you have a cough. You will be unnecessarily exerting the body.”
Link between lung health and exercising
Lack of physical activity is known to increase body cortisol and may inhibit critical parameters of the immune system. It is known that immune cells maintain their ability to redeploy with physical activity and they play a very important role of patrolling the vulnerable areas of the body. Exercise is known to stimulate these cells. Journal of Health and Sciences and Sports stated that exercise is known to enhance innate immune systems with moderate exercises. It helps in managing acute respiratory illnesses and also reduces prevalence of chronic diseases in the body.
Dr Nimish Shah, consultant respiratory medicine at Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre shares, “In terms of exercise, one must focus on a few things, not only focusing on the lungs but also areas that help breathing – like chest walls, muscles of respiration and diaphragm. To improve these, slow and long deep breathing while you are sitting ideally helps, yogic breathing helps, diaphragmatic breathing also helps people with lung diseases. Walking in itself, running and jogging are also known to be beneficial. And not many people know but sighing and yawning also help increase your lung capacity.
How can you tell there is a problem?
The first significant symptom of unhealthy/compromised lungs is the feeling of breathlessness. One might feel suffocated that is causing troubled breathing. Shortness of breath, pain while breathing in and out are also some initial symptoms that direct towards deteriorating health of the lungs.
Other signs of an underlying lung issue could be progressively reduced exercise capacity, reduced stamina, progressive weight loss, chronic dry cough, productive sputum, possible underlying lung problem. These should be brought to the attention of your treating doctor.
Dr Shah adds a word of caution. “If the oximeter shows your saturation level less than 95 with increased heart rate, it is an indication that your body is trying to compensate for more than required and lungs may be compromised.”