Most of us rest when sick. But with COVID-19, experts say movement speeds recovery. “The virus loves to attack the lungs, and staying in bed causes small air sacs to collapse,” explains pulmonologist William O Lacy, M.D. “This can lower oxygen uptake and intensify illness.” Here are the best ways to up your airflow and keep lungs healthy.
To open airways: Sit up straight
When you’re having trouble taking a deep breath, your first inclination is to lie down. But Dr. Lacy, medical director of pulmonology at Norton Pulmonology Specialists in Kentucky, advises sitting up as much as possible. Sitting gives lungs a gravitational assist allowing them to fully expand.
To reopen air sacs: Try nose breathing
Deep breathing not only speeds secretions out of lungs, it pops open collapsed air sacs. An easy technique: Inhale as deeply as possible, then hold your breath for about five seconds before exhaling. Do five times every hour. Also smart: Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. According to ear, nose and throat specialist Len Zhang, M.D., this releases nitric oxide, a gas produced in sinuses that fights viruses and boosts oxygen intake by 20 percent.
To expel secretions: Lie on your stomach
Lying on your back puts pressure on air sacs in the lower lungs; plus, it can allow damaging secretions to collect there. That’s why Mangala Narasimhan, D.O., regional director of critical care at Northwell Health in New York, advises spending two to three hours lying on your stomach instead. Physicians report this strategy (called proning) boosts oxygen levels within five minutes.
For stronger lungs: Go for a stroll
Walking strengthens the muscles that support the lungs, says Dr. Narasimhan, who adds that it helps prevent blood clots that can complicate coronavirus. She recommends easy walks of up to 20 minutes daily. Moderate movement increases the body’s production of endorphins, chemicals shown to boost mood and immunity. —Melissa Gotthardt
A better mask tip!
Adding a layer of pantyhose over a face mask boosts its ability to filter small particles by up to 66 percent, researchers at Northeastern University recently discovered.
When to get help
While self-care strategies can enhance COVID-19 recovery, it’s important to heal at home under a doctor’s guidance. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience serious symptoms cited by the CDC, such as trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion and blue lips or face.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.