Recovering from Coronavirus: Breathing Exercises

Clinical Director Claire Small, shares why breathing exercises can be a useful tool to aid recovery from Coronavirus.

With so many people affected by Covid 19, it is inevitable that we’ll all know friends, family and work colleagues that have been effected. The latest information suggests that even with relatively mild cases, it is a really nasty virus to recover from and people are struggling with their breathing and activity levels for some time after the fever and cough have gone.

In the same way that aerobic exercise improves your heart function and strengthens your muscles, breathing exercises can make your lungs more efficient and may be a useful tool to aid your recovery if you are experiencing ongoing problems post Covid 19.

When you breathe efficiently, your diaphragm does about 80% of the work to move oxygen and other gases in and out of your lungs. When you have had an illness like Covid 19, your lungs lose some of their springiness meaning they don’t take oxygen in or let waste gases out as effectively, and air gets trapped in our lungs.

Over time, the diaphragm works less effectively and we get less well oxygenated air into our lungs. We start to use other muscles around our neck and shoulders to help get more air in. Using these other muscles leads to several problems – lower oxygen levels generally and less air getting to the bases of our lungs where the lung volume is greatest. When the air fails to reach the bases of our lungs, the alveoli, the small air sacks where the lungs and blood stream exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, deflate and collapse, a condition known as atelectasis.

Practicing regular breathing exercises can help improve the function of the diaphragm, get more air to the bases of our lungs, reduces atelectasis and generally improves the supply of oxygen to our lungs and bodies.

In the videos that follow, Pilates Instructor Lauren MacDonald demonstrates a range of breathing exercises that may be beneficial. Start slowly with 1 – 2 exercises and gradually build up as your energy levels allow you to. Do 2 – 3 repetitions of each exercise and try to do them about 4 – 5 times a day.

General Exercise #

You should only return to physical activity once you are feeling better and can cope with your normal daily activities around the house. Return to exercise should be gradual and not within 7 days of being ill.

In the same way that you should progress slowly with these breathing exercises, you should also take things slowly with your general exercise level. Walking is the best form of general exercise to begin with – on a level surface – and for no more than 5 minutes. If you tolerate this comfortably, don’t be tempted to do more straight away. Wait until the next day and increase the time or distance you walk by 10%. 

Once you can walk comfortably for 30min (ideally you should be able to hold a conversation with someone while doing this) you can increase the challenge by walking more quickly or by adding in some hills and stairs. Continue to use the ability to talk as an indication that you are working at an appropriate level. 

Many of you who are used to being fairly active may find this lower level of activity very frustrating. Don’t be tempted to push too quickly – you will just tire yourself out and find you are unable to progress on the next day. The key here is slow, steady and sustained increases in activity level – not boom and bust.