Keeping Your Lungs Healthy
Good breathing practices and exercises can help you keep your lungs young and healthy.
Your best protection against the Covid-19 virus attacking your lungs is still to completely avoid the virus.
But the stronger your lungs, the better your odds of contracting a light case.
We know that because early studies of Covid-19 in China show having lung damage puts you at higher risk from the disease.
Weak lungs may – or may not – help explain why some people get infected without ever suffering symptoms.
We do know smoking, air pollution and lung conditions such as COPD raise your risk.
The Role of Your Vagus Nerve
The longest nerve in your body, your vagus runs from your neck through your abdomen. It has many branches throughout your gut and around your heart, connecting the major organs.
Among the many roles it plays in your body, it turns off the fight or flight reaction we have to stress. It relaxes you by slowing down your heart and lowering your blood pressure. That by itself makes you feel calmer.
When you need to fight or flee, your breathing becomes fast and shallow.
If deep breathing does nothing else for you, it stimulates your vagus nerve, therefore relaxing you when you are confronted by something stressful. And it does so by being long and slow.
That’s why the well-known way to calm down is to stop and take a deep breath.
A long inhalation and exhalation tell your vagus nerve: It’s okay, everything’s fine, remain calm.
That reduces the effects of the adrenaline and cortisol that make you feel stressed out.
When you need to fight, FIGHT. For sure.
But when you must spend many hours at home, it’s much healthier to remain calm and relaxed – even when you watch the news.
Therefore, several times a day take 10 long, slow deep breaths.
The Wim Hof Method
Also known as the “Iceman,” Hof is famous for exposing himself to extremely cold environments.
Another essential pillar of his program is a breathing technique he developed himself.
Scientists in The Netherlands studied Hof and some of his students. They found his techniques did actually influence the reactions of their immune systems to being injected with an endotoxin which normally causes flu-like symptoms.
Hof and his students had a significantly lower inflammatory response to endotoxin, reducing the intensity of their cytokine storms.
That’s incredibly important for fighting Covid-19 because much of the lung damage seen from the illness is NOT caused by the virus itself, but by the cytokine storm, your body unleashes on its own lung tissue.
A cytokine storm is your body’s overreaction to the virus. It’s kind of like a renegade squad taking over a house in Minneapolis. In response, the military nukes the entire city – including St. Paul.
Cytokine storm is a major cause of death and lung damage in Covid-19 patients – as it was with the 1918 flu.
Plus, some people report practicing the Hof Method helps them with autoimmune disease.
Essentially, Hof has you take 30-40 fast but deep breaths through the mouth. Then you exhale – and hold for a minute or longer.
Repeat three times.
The Lung Institute and the COPD Foundation both advocate practicing deep abdominal breathing.
Sit in a comfortable position or lay on your back.
Inhale slowly through your nostrils, letting your diaphragm expand your abdomen and lower rib cage. A true deep breath is not the silly gasp you were taught as a child.
Then exhale slowly through your nostrils, contracting your abdomen.
You can find many yogic breathing exercises (called pranayama) online and in books. Some claim they do increase your immune strength. I can’t say they’ve been scientifically studied for that.
However, they do increase your lung capacity and relax you, relieving the effects of stress – and that improves your immune system.
Of course, light aerobic exercise, even just walking, helps to strengthen your lungs. Therefore, you should engage in a daily routine.
However, don’t stress yourself out too much. Now is not the time to begin training for an ultramarathon.
And you should be safer breathing the air outside than inside – as long as you’re not close to other people.
After nearly 60 years of scientific studies to fill up the Empire State Building, I shouldn’t have to say that, but around 20% of Americans still smoke.
That goes for cannabis too, because it inflames your lungs. If you want to get high while you’re home alone, take edible cannabis instead.
Everything you can do to make your lungs healthier will make it harder for Covid-19 to infect, permanently damage and kill you.
This is not medical advice. Always seek your doctors’ direction.