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Fight Covid19 With Deep Breathing

Kari was a Registered Nurse for almost 30 years. She likes to write articles to help others understand medical information.


This sheltering in place is becoming quite tedious. Everyday is the same. Bad news about the coronavirus. Bad news about the economy. We want to fight back, but we cannot do anything unless our job was considered essential. We feel powerless and helpless as we stay at home day after day.

I have found a way to fight from home and it makes me feel empowered. I am fighting by performing deep breathing exercises a few times everyday.

But, before I get to the details about deep breathing, I will explain a little about what COVID19 is and how it affects the body.

What is COVID19?

COVID19 is a respiratory illness that is caused by a new (novel) type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a bunch of viruses that can infect birds and mammals. Most coronaviruses do not infect humans. And, there are a few that humans can catch, like COVID-19.

Viruses are smaller than cells. They consist of a small piece of RNA or DNA encircled by a protein shell. Viruses attack the body by getting into a cell and programming the cell, using its genetic material, to make viruses. Then these viruses attack more and more cells, reprogramming them to make viruses. This keeps going until you are overrun by viruses and become sick..

Another corona-virus scare we had was Severe Acute Respiratory System (SARS) pandemic in 2002 to 2003. The SARS virus infected far fewer people worldwide than Covid-19. H1N1, the swine flu, was not included here because it is an influenza type of virus. Most people have contracted a type of coronavirus within their lifetime. Most coronaviruses have the same symptoms as a flu. Covid19 and the SARS viruses are stronger than these, causing the respiratory system (lungs) to fail.

What COVID19 Does to the Body:

COVID 19 begins its infection by entering the body. The main way it enters the body is by the respiratory system. (The respiratory system is basically the lungs and tubes going to the lungs.) Once the virus is in a cell, it begins it’s replication process. Since this is a new virus and it is the first time it has infected the human race, human’s bodies do not have a way to destroy it yet.

COVID19 makes more copies of itself, and goes deeper into the lungs. It continues to infect and often kill healthy cells. The body knows now that it is under attack, but it does not know the specific response it should take. The body then sends all it’s got against the invader. (Eventually learning how to kill the virus at a microscopic level so the virus cannot replicate and make us sick.)

Throwing everything we have against the virus causes inflammation where the virus controlled cells are. Inflammation leads to a build-up of dead cells, mucus and increased blood flow. All of this starts to fill the lungs up with fluid. Meanwhile, the virus is also killing lung cells. All of this fluid leads to shortness of breath.

Anytime you experience shortness of breath, or feel like you can’t catch your breath, you need to contact your doctor immediately. If you cannot contact the doctor, go to the emergency room.

Deep Breathing May Help

A new study was published March 16 of this year shows lung capacity may affect coronavirus symptoms. It states, “Improving respiratory health even before becoming infected, should also improve outcomes.”

The American Lung Association agrees, saying “If practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.”

Deep breathing helps to open up our lungs again. Most days we never deep breathe. Even walking we only use about 80% of our capacity. We want to make sure we can use 100% of our lung capacity. That way, we will have some capacity left over as the coronavirus clogs areas of our lungs.

Deep breathing exercises help your lungs to increase capacity and increase strength. Everyone needs to start doing these exercises at least a few times a day. I had an item called a spirometer that helps exercise the lungs. I bought it after I had lung clots to increase my lung capacity.

What is a Spirometer?

When I was a nurse, we called the item shown in the picture below, an incentive spirometers. After looking them up, I learned their official name is a volumetric exerciser now. Nurses and respiratory therapists usually give them to postoperative patients to help prevent pneumonia. It is basically deep breathing using a cool gadget to strengthen and clear your lungs.

The spirometer has a yellow piston on the left side. You try to keep that piston between the lines marked "best" while breathing in. At the same time, you will notice a blue ball rising on the right side. Make note of how high it goes and the corresponding number, this is your lung capacity. There is a little yellow indicator on the right to mark your lung capacity.

I think using a spirometer is more fun than just deep breathing. It gives me a couple of tasks to perfect which keeps me interested. But, like everything there is a downside. The spirometer is not handy to use everywhere. It is largish and a little bulky. I only use it at home. Volumetric exercisers, or spirometers, are relatively inexpensive at between ten and twenty dollars.

The parts of a spirometer.

The parts of a spirometer.

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How to Use a Spirometer

  1. Sit up straight in a chair or as far up as you can in a bed. The better you sit up, the better you will breath.
  2. Place the mouthpiece in your mouth and seal your lips around it while the spirometer sits upright on a table or tray.
  3. Breath in slowly and deeply until your lungs are full. While you are breathing in, think about filling your lungs from the bottom up. You should see your abdomen (belly) expand.
  4. While you are breathing in, notice the yellow piston moving up in its cylinder. Try to keep this piston between the "best" lines on the spirometer's cylinder.
  5. Notice how high the blue ball goes on the left side of the spirometer, so you can mark the capacity number with the yellow indicator.
  6. Hold your breath for at least five minutes before exhaling. (The piston will slowly drop down to the bottom.)
  7. Rest for a minute, then repeat steps 1 to 6. Repeat a total of 10 times, ensuring to rest in between so you don't get dizzy.
  8. After ten times, try coughing to make sure your lungs are cleared.
  9. Do this three to five times a day.

How to Deep Breathe

There are many different ways to perform deep breathing. I use a way that I was taught in nursing school. Always inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Also, when inhaling, watch your stomach rise and think about getting your lungs completely full of air.

  1. Exhale and try to empty your lungs of air. Then inhale slowly and steadily for three seconds. I advise you say one thousand between each number.
  2. After inhaling, hold your breathe for three seconds.
  3. Slowly exhale over three seconds.
  4. Wait three seconds and repeat.

I do know people who find a five second inhale, exhale and wait cycle works better than the three second one.

I start by doing ten deep breaths about 3 times a day. Five times a day is even better.

Pursed Lip Breathing

Pursed lip breathing is another way to exercise the lungs. It also helps to slow down your breathing. If you wonder what pursed lips are, they are our lips when we make kissy faces.

  1. Purse your lips.
  2. Breathe in using your nose.
  3. Breathe out through your mouth for twice as long as you inhaled.

This is also a good method to get extra air in your lungs when you feel you cannot breath or become short of breath. Pursed lip breathing helps by keeping the airways open longer, which makes it easier to breath.

This is an exercise that requires practice. You need to be able to do this method of breathing without thought. The hard part is increasing the time of the exhale. Practice this breathing three times a day, using four or five breaths.

Pursed Lip Breathing

Benefits of Deep Breathing and Pursed Lip Breathing

Deep breathing exercises like pursed lip breathing are best started today. They may help if you catch the coronavirus but their benefits do not end there. Deep breathing has more blessings than just increasing our lung capacity. It also starts a chain reaction of well being. The three main outcomes are:

  1. Lowers blood pressure
  2. Lowers heart rate. (beats per minute)
  3. Lowers stress levels and decreases anxiety.

Stay Safe

It is very important that we all continue to self isolate. Curse this invisible foe! But we will beat it if we follow the CDC's recommendations about hand washing, isolating and wearing masks.

Deep breathing may not save you from getting the corona-virus. But it is an action we can easily do at home to increase our chance of surviving.


Blake Elias, Chen Shen and Yaneer Bar-Yam, Respiratory health for better COVID-19 outcomes, New England Complex Systems Institute (March 16, 2020).

Do You Need More Information?

For more information on the pandemic and COVID19, go to the CDC HERE.


A labeled illustration of the lungs.

A labeled illustration of the lungs.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Kari Poulsen


Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 13, 2020:

Yes, Sheena. Running is a brilliant way to increase and maintain your lung capacity. However, the Pursed Lip Breathing requires practice for best experiences. It not only exercises your lungs, it also helps to get more air in when you feel you cannot breath. The reason why practice is recommended is sometimes it is hard to concentrate while you are breathless. Practice makes it easier.

Sheena Marie Meow on April 12, 2020:

Does exercise also help like deep breathing from running?

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 12, 2020:

Thank you Jo! I really feel deep breathing helps, and giving yourself extra lung capacity will never hurt!

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 12, 2020:

Eric, I understand, but deep breathing exercises are easy to do anywhere. I had not been doing them everyday but I'm back to it,

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 12, 2020:

Dora, i am glad to hear that. Deep breathing is important to our wellness.

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 12, 2020:

Linda, I'm glad you found the information useful!

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 12, 2020:

Doris, thank you so much! Deep breathing is an important exercise to do every day, especially during this time of pandemic.

Jo Miller from Tennessee on April 12, 2020:

Very useful information. I'm sharing.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 10, 2020:

Wonderful stuff. I will begin again doing breathing exercises. Funny I used to do them daily but with....

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 09, 2020:

Thanks, Kari for this suggestion and explanation. I intend to implement these deep breathing practices starting today.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 08, 2020:

Thank you for creating this article, Kari. I've been reading about doing breathing exercises today and wanted to learn more about the idea. I'm glad that I've read the information that you've shared.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 08, 2020:

Being an old radio announcer, I used to deep breathe daily, but after sitting at a desk exercising my fingers on a computer for 30 years, I must get back into practice again. I agree that this is very important in this day and time. I hope people will take your good advice very seriously, Kari. You've done an excellent job of explaining how it is done.

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 08, 2020:

Thank you Bill. I hope you are also staying safe and healthy. Blessings to you and yours.

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 08, 2020:

FlourishAnyway, One thing I love about deep breathing is that it can be done anywhere. And it always makes me feel more peaceful when I am done. I hope all is well! Stay safe and healthy!

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on April 08, 2020:

Umesh Chandra Bhatt, I am glad to hear many are deep breathing. It really is a very healthy thing to do, as I'm sure you know. Keep safe and stay healthy!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2020:

Good information, my friend.Thank you for sharing your expertise, and God bless you during these tough days. Stay safe and blessings to you.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 08, 2020:

Thank you for creating awareness. It’s something important we can do for ourselves while we socially distance.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on April 07, 2020:

Yes, this is a technique already mentioned in Yoga and Pranayam. Many people are following it and now this awareness is spreading fast. You have brought out it in this article very nicely. Thanks.

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