The picture shows a carved wooden figure with wings standing on a mountain with a mountain panorama in the background. It stands for the fitness of the lungs and what we can do for it.

Fitness for the lungs

Not long ago, in the middle of working through my usual long to-do lists, I realised that while I was still working well, I was not as attentive as I was used to. I felt like I was in a race. I paused and convinced myself to take a break. I sat down and took a couple of deep breaths. With every breath I felt calmer and my mind cleared.

How can we build respiratory resilience?

One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was how to build respiratory resilience in times of COVID-19. How can our immune system be strengthened? Especially whilst there is no cure, prevention can help. Those with respiratory conditions or a weak immune system are more susceptible to any virus or other infections. We know that we do not have the means yet to fight off the virus, but we can still prepare for it. Luck favors the prepared. There are small and easy steps we can take every day which help us through these challenging times. Breathing is a 24/7 unconscious act and we can take conscious steps to do it the “right way“.

Let’s try the following breathing exercises

All you need is fresh air, a chair, a blanket, a towel, your body and mind. That’s all!

Vagus breathing

Vagus breathing is an excellent measure to counteract stress. We all need that especially in times of uncertainty and confusion. This breathing technique is both simple and effective at the same time. The vagus nerve consists of thousands and thousands of fibres and 80 per cent of them are sensory. This means that the vagus nerve tells your brain what is going on in your organs, including the lungs. Vagus breathing enhances the vagal tone. Research shows that high vagal tone leads to improved well-being and more stable health. Just 5 minutes per day can make a big difference in your life.

How do you do it?
Sit comfortably on a chair. You may want to cover yourself with a blanket. Position your hands where it feels right for you. Close your eyes and begin to observe your natural breath. Feel how your lower abdomen expands when you inhale and how it retracts towards your spine when you exhale. Continue until it feels easy and natural.
Then continue to breathe lightly through your nose. Your abdomen expands. Exhale through your mouth by relaxing your abdomen and make a soft “haaa”-sound. Creating sound stimulates the vagus system, as does listening to the sound you are making. Maintain the length of the inhalation and try to concentrate on a longer exhalation now. Between the breaths you might want to pause for a second or two. Breath retention also stimulates the vagus system. You determine the length of the pause: it should feel comfortable and natural. Continue with this breathing pattern for at least five minutes.

4-7-8 Breathing

The nose is a smart filter system lined with tiny hairs which have important functions: they filter, humidify, heat or cool the air. The tiny hairs protect our body against about 20 billion foreign particles every day!

How do you do it?
Please sit upright, let your hands rest on your thighs. Relax your shoulders. Gently close your lips. Slowly inhale through both of your nostrils and count until 4. Hold your breath and count until 7. Exhale through your mouth making a soft “haaaa”-sound and empty your lungs completely while you count until 8. Repeat this cycle up to 4 times.

Abdominal breathing

This breathing exercise helps strengthen your diaphragm and has a number of other benefits, such as lowering your stress levels, helping to reduce your blood pressure and stimulating digestion. It is the basis of almost all meditation or relaxation techniques.

How do you do it?
You can practice abdominal breathing lying down or sitting up. If you lie on your back, bend your knees slightly and keep your feet flat against the surface. If you need extra support, put a pillow under your legs to keep your knees up. Pay attention to your shoulders, especially when you are sitting up. Before you start the exercise, observe your normal breathing pattern: do you breathe into your chest or abdomen? Does your breathing feel slow or fast? Are your breaths too shallow? See if there is anything about your breathing that feels abnormal. Doing occasional abdominal breathing exercises can help regulate normal breathing.

Now place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. Inhale slowly through your nose and feel the air moving through your nostrils, your upper lungs, your lower lungs down into your abdomen.
The hand on your stomach moves upward while the hand on your chest remains relatively still. You do not need to count, but you should inhale until you can no longer breathe in air comfortably. Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose. As you exhale breathe through pursed lips. Push out as much air as you can by using your abdominal muscles as you exhale. Continue to exhale until you can no longer exhale comfortably.
Once you are finished exhaling, repeat this exercise. Continue for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Train like winners do

We all need a little nudge from time to time to lift our spirits, to strengthen our self-esteem and health. This exercise can be done by all age groups, from young to old, and is very effective. Smile during this exercise! Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins and serotonin. These natural chemicals elevate your mood, but they also relax your body, reduce physical pain. All this without any side effects!

How do you do it?
You can do this exercise by standing with your feet at least hip-wide apart or by sitting upright on a chair. Air the room well before or exercise with the window open. Stretch a towel or scarf between your hands. Extend your arms to shoulder level. Then, as you breathe in through your nose, move your stretched out arms up above your head. Your head remains straight. The lungs widen. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth, lowering your stretched out arms back to shoulder level. Make sure that the towel remains taut at all times. Repeat this exercise 9 times.

Play a wind instrument!

Flute, oboe, tuba, saxophone, harmonica or the clarinet are perfect fitness trainers for your lungs. Increase your lung function in a playful way by playing a wind instrument or singing loudly every day, thus using your lung capacity to the fullest.

PS: Drink enough water and avoid smoking for the sake of your lungs!