Expand your lungs to help fight Covid-19 and other respiratory infections


  • Fitness
  • Friday, 27 Mar 2020

Now that you're at home, get some vitamin D from the sun while in your garden or on your balcony, as it can protect you from respiratory infections. — AFP

By now, every other article you’ve been reading is probably concerning Covid-19. Here’s one more, but it’s slightly different!

If you’ve adhered to the movement control order, you might be screaming out of boredom, enjoying the bliss of staying at home or catching up on procrastinated affairs.

Tons of people have vented on social media that they are cooped up in their homes with nothing to do.

Apparently, they have completed their 14-day to-do list in a day.

Really? Don’t people have hobbies anymore, aside from surfing the Internet?

Frankly, if you’re bored with your own company, don’t expect others to find you exciting.

Surely you can find something stimulating to occupy your mind and time, assuming that your non-essential service employer has given you a two-week break?

Getting in some extra exercise is certainly one option to fill up the time.

If you don’t already know, staying fit is a great way to boost your immune system.

No gym? No jogging paths? Closed forest trails?

Then work out at home or with your buddy next door – just make sure you socially-distance yourself by standing a metre or two away from each other.

Don’t share your exercise gadgets or mat with others either.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Covid-19 can spread when someone touches a surface with the coronavirus on it, then touches their mouth, nose or eyes, without washing or sanitising their hands first.

This means that you might be able to pick up Covid-19 from an infected mat or piece of equipment.

And if you need guidance on what exercises to do, there are tons of videos online to pick from.

Or else, stick to the basics like jumping jacks, running on the spot, squats, crunches, planks, push-ups, etc.

A man singing and playing the guitar from his balcony to raise morale during the lockdown in Italy. You can also sing from your balcony to increase your lung capacity. — ReutersA man singing and playing the guitar from his balcony to raise morale during the lockdown in Italy. You can also sing from your balcony to increase your lung capacity. — Reuters

Increasing lung capacity

If you need a different idea on how to keep your fitness up, here’s one: start working on your lungs.

We know that the coronavirus causes breathing difficulties, particularly if you belong to the vulnerable group and already have pre-existing respiratory ailments.

So working on expanding your lung capacity might help with that.

Lung function can be affected by age, smoking, inhaling pollutants and certain medical conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among other factors.

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority recently revealed that some of the first wave of patients who recovered from Covid-19 had reduced lung function and were gasping for air when walking briskly.

Out of about a dozen people, two to three saw changes in their lung capacity and were unable to do certain physical activities they were able to in the past.

A review of lung scans of nine infected patients at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong found patterns similar to frosted glass in all of them, suggesting that there was organ damage, reported the South China Morning Post on March 13 (2020).

It is not known whether these patients had respiratory ailments prior to contracting Covid-19, but swimming was suggested as a way to rebuild their lungs.

Unless you have a swimming pool in your house, there is no way to go swimming during this period, so you need to think of some alternatives.

Although it’s not easy to increase your lung capacity overnight, exercising regularly can help you to slowly and steadily take in more oxygen.

During any form of exercise, two important organs come into action: the heart and the lungs.

The lungs are responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that keep the brain, heart, and other parts of the body healthy.

The heart pumps oxygen to the muscles that are doing the exercise.

So exercising not only works out your muscles and joints, but also your heart and lungs.

Things to do

Here are some suggestions to help fill up your time while at home and work on your lungs at the same time:

Interval training

When you do an intense workout, the lungs need more oxygen to perform the action, i.e. you have to breathe harder.Basic exercises like this lunge can be easily done at home — FilepicBasic exercises like this lunge can be easily done at home — Filepic

When your lungs are healthy, you keep a large breathing reserve.

This means that while you may feel out of breath after an intense exercise, you will not be short of breath.

When you have reduced lung function, you would have to use a large part of your breathing reserve during exercise, making you feel out of breath easily.

Interval training, which involves alternating a more challenging exercise with a slower one (for the reco-very period), allows the lungs time to recover before challenging them again.

An example of interval training you can do at home is to walk very briskly up and down the stairs (don’t touch the railings) or around the house for a minute, then slow down your pace for two minutes to catch your breath and recover.

Do a few sets of this.

You can also do high-knee runs or jumping jacks for a minute before doing gentle lunges for two minutes.

Take deep breaths

Sit or stand comfortably with your spine erect in a non-air-conditioned area of your home.

Take a deep breath and exhale via pursed lips. If you breathe in for four counts, double the count on the exhale (eight counts).

As your lung function increases, you will be able to take in more air.

Either slow down your counting or increase the number of counts, e.g. inhale for six counts and exhale for 12 counts.

You can do this twice a day for five to 10 minutes every time.

This slow, deep breathing fills up the lungs and allows them to expand.

Top up your vitamin D

Recent studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency is associated with reduced lung function.

Vitamin D is believed to protect against respiratory infections by boosting levels of microbial peptides (natural antibiotic-like substances) in the lungs.

Many of us work and live in air-conditioned environments and we hardly get any sunshine, which is biggest natural source of vitamin D.

Now that you’re at home, get your daily dose of this “sunshine” vitamin by standing in the sun in your garden or on your balcony for a few minutes every morning.

Sing or hum it out

If you recall, last week in locked-down Italy, quarantined musicians played and sang from their balconies to keep themselves and others entertained.

If you live in an apartment or condominium, walk out to the balcony and start singing!

Your neighbours might wince if you lack rhythm or pitch, but it may also bring a smile to their faces. In these troubled times, we have to find joy in little things.

Better yet, get them to join you and serenade other dwellers.

Singing uses the lungs to provide airflow to produce musical words or sounds.

It helps strengthen the muscles used to breathe and you actually learn how to breathe more deeply and slowly without realising it.

By learning to control your breathing, you can increase your lung capacity at the same time, in addition to improving your reaction towards infection.

If you can’t sing, hum.

Research shows that humming is more than just a soothing sound.

It affects us on a physical level, reducing stress, inducing tranquility and enhancing sleep.

Remember how your mother or grandmother used to hum you to sleep?

It was immediately comforting, and we all need some calming and comforting in these troubled times.

Peace is long gone and we’re at war now. Let’s be well-equipped to fight this together.

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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