Breathing Excercises, Pulse Oximeter And Their Role In Covid-19


In the times of Covid-19, we hear many stories from patients who have recovered from the Covid-19 infection. Among these stories, one opinion says that deep breathing exercises help to prevent worsening of Covid-19 symptoms. Another narrative suggests that the pulse oximeter helps us against Covid-19 infection. Let us see the scientific rationale and truth behind it.

Do Deep Breathing Exercises Help To Prevent Worsening Of Covid-19 Symptoms?

The answer in short is “NO”. Actually such recommendations come from the knowledge that lung exercises help in certain lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia or other lung conditions. Its role in patients with Covid-19 has not yet been proven.

However, having said that, certain lung exercises helps to improve the health of the lung in general. And as we know Covid-19 attacks the lung, improving health of the lungs will in turn help the body in fighting the infection more efficiently.


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The goal of these lung exercises are-

  1. To expand the lungs to full capacity,
  2. To clear air buildup in lung. (When we exhale, lung collapses due to its elasticity and air is pushed out. But with increasing age or lung diseases, lung elasticity decreases, so when we exhale, some air remain trapped in lung. This air buildup not allow new air to fill lung and hence amount of oxygen received by lung decreases. So this air buildup needs to be cleared forcefully.)
  3. To strengthen our breathing muscles.

Some of the recommended exercises are-


inhale exhale


  1. Belly or diaphragmatic breathing (2-5 minutes) – for this, first you need to sit down on the floor in an erect position. Then put one hand on your chest and other on your belly. Now take a deep breath in through your nose and feel that your belly move out and chest remain steady. Then slowly breathe out through mouth (with or without pursed lips) and feel your belly move back in. Repeat this slowly few times. This type of breathing helps-
    1. To expand the lung to its full capacity during inhalation.
    2. To force out the air buildup in lungs.
    3. To strengthen diaphragmatic muscle, which is main muscle for respiration.
    4. To relieve stress and help us to relax and be calm. And hence, it also decreases heart rate and blood pressure.


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2. Kapalbhati (2-5 minutes) – Sit down cross-legged on the floor in an erect position. Now exhale through both nostrils by forceful contraction of abdominal muscles. Then inhale passively allowing abdominal muscles to relax. Continue this rhythmically. This exercise helps-

    1. To force out the air buildup in lungs.
    2. To strengthen belly muscles and help to loose belly fat.
    3. It improves digestion.


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deep breathing


3. Deep breathing (2-5 minutes) – Sit down cross-legged on the floor in an erect, and relaxed posture. Breathe through your nose as much as you can expanding your belly and chest. Wait for a second or two and breathe out slowly through your nose. Repeat it. This exercise helps-

    1. To expand lung to its full capacity.
    2. To strengthening of breathing muscles.
    3. To relieve stress and decrease blood pressure.


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anulom vilom


4. Anulom Vilom (2-5 minutes) – Sit down cross-legged on the floor in an erect position. Close your right nostril with right thumb and inhale slowly from left nostril and fill up the lungs. Now close left nostril with your middle finger and the ring finger, and exhale from right nostril. Now inhale from right nostril and exhale from left nostril. Repeat it. This exercise helps-

    1. To expand lung to its full capacity.
    2. To strengthening of breathing muscles.
    3. To relax and relieve stress and decrease blood pressure.

You should do all of these four exercises daily for at least 10-20 minutes to keep our lungs healthy.


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Does Pulse Oximeter Help Us Against Covid-19?

pulse oximeter


Again the answer is “NO”. Pulse oximeter is a small device which is put on finger to measure the amount of oxygen (saturation) in the blood. The basis of this recommendation comes from the reports of Silent Hypoxia or Happy Hypoxia which occurs in Covid-19 patients. This means that patients are absolutely fine clinically with no complaints, but when we measure the oxygen saturation, it is low. The reason for Covid-19 patients developing Silent Hypoxia is still not known and is still baffling the physicians.

The pulse oximeter is helpful especially in Covid-19 patients who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic and isolated at home. Such patients should keep on measuring their oxygen saturation regularly. And if it comes to 90% or below, it indicates hypoxia, i.e., your body is not getting enough oxygen. This should warn you to seek urgent medical help.

In normal persons, if saturation is 90% or low, it does not suggest that you are suffering from Covid-19, especially when there are no other symptoms. Low oxygenation may be due to other causes and you should seek medical help. Likewise, if your saturation is normal, but you have other symptoms of Covid-19, you may have caught the Covid-19 infection and you should consult your doctor immediately. Reports have suggested that many patients with Covid-19 will have normal saturation.

Thus, the pulse oximeter does not directly help in prevention or treatment of Covid-19. However, it is helpful for Covid-19 patients, who are home quarantined, to detect the amount of oxygen in their blood.


Take Home Points

Breathing exercises are beneficial in making our lungs healthy. Healthy lungs in turn help us to fight lung infections like Covid-19 more powerfully.

Pulse oximeter is helpful in Covid-19 patients who are home quarantined. It helps to detect silent hypoxia early, which should warn us to seek urgent medical help.

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