Breathing Exercises to Help Long-Term COVID Effects

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • COVID-19 symptoms can linger for weeks or even months after the initial infection. This phenomenon has been dubbed “long covid” by some. Because the coronavirus primarily affects the lungs, one of the long COVID-19 breathing symptoms after initial recovery can be ongoing breathlessness. COVID-19 may damage lung tissue in a way that’s similar to COPD, which means COPD breathing exercises for COVID-19 might be helpful in minimizing ongoing breathlessness. Try these exercises as a type of COVID-19 breathing treatment if your healthcare provider gives you the green light to do so.

  • 1
    Diaphragmatic Breathing on Your Back
    woman lying on back with knees bent and feet on floor practicing yoga, with one hand on her belly and one hand on her chest

    “Diaphragmatic breathing” refers to taking deep belly breaths that cause your diaphragm to expand as much as possible. Diaphragmatic breathing can inflate the tiny air sacs at the bottom of your lungs and enable them to expel any mucus lodged there. To perform this COVID-19 breathing exercise, lie flat on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hand over your navel (belly button) and focus on pushing your hand up with each breath. Repeat 8 to 10 times or for one minute.

  • 2
    Deep Breathing on Your Stomach
    senior woman relaxes in yoga asana Makarasana or crocodile pose

    Performing diaphragmatic breathing while lying on your stomach helps open up different air sacs in your lungs. Do not perform this maneuver if it causes increased breathlessness. Lie on your stomach on your bed or a sofa, resting your forehead on your hands. Keep your mouth closed and touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue. As you slowly breathe in through your nose, focus on pushing your belly button into the mattress or sofa. Exhale slowly through your nose. Repeat 8 to 10 times.

  • 3
    Pursed Lip Breathing
    senior woman exercising outdoors, stretching and breathing out through pursed lips

    This type of breathing holds air inside your lungs for a longer period of time than a standard breath, which enables your blood to take up more oxygen. To perform a pursed lip breathing exercise, sit upright on a chair. Breathe in through your nose while counting rhythmically, then purse your lips like you plan to kiss someone and breathe out through your mouth for twice as many beats as you inhaled. For example, if you counted to “four” while inhaling, exhale over a count of “eight.”

  • 4
    Deep Breathing With Humming
    young woman practicing breathing therapy on video call through laptop while sitting at home

    Humming while exhaling may hold air in your lungs longer than simply exhaling through your nose or mouth. To perform deep breathing with humming, start by sitting or standing as upright as possible. Place one hand on your sternum (breastbone) and the other hand on your belly. Close your lips and touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue. As you slowly inhale through your nose, focus on pushing your lower hand away from your body before your upper hand rises with your chest. Exhale through your nose while humming. Perform 8 to 10 times.

  • 5
    Deep Breathing With Coughing
    adult woman coughing covering mouth with tissue at home

    Coughing clears secretions from your lungs, so you can breathe easier. But it’s important to use a good coughing technique. To do this, perform a sequence of diaphragmatic breathing exercises as previously described. Then, while sitting or standing, hold your mouth open and cough, catching any secretions in a tissue. Never cough or clear your throat with your mouth closed, as this can put excessive pressure on your eardrums. Try to cough from deep in your lungs to expel mucus.

    (Before performing any activity that might make you cough, be sure to put on a face mask if other people will be nearby.)

  • 6
    Aerobic Exercise
    African American or black father and his two daughters exercising at home with fit ball

    Depending on how severe your long COVID-19 breathlessness feels, you may get relief from engaging in aerobic activity. Do not exercise so intensively that your breathlessness gets worse; only ramp up the intensity of your aerobic activities as your breathlessness decreases. Aerobic activity also can relieve chest pain and fatigue associated with long COVID by pushing secretions out of your lungs and improving your oxygenation. Try brisk walking, jogging, cycling, dancing, or any activity that gets your blood pumping.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 14
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.