Can Exercise Help You Avoid Pneumonia?

 by Matt Weik

Unless you live under a rock (which would be weird), you know the devastating effects of pneumonia. This can be destructive to your health, but even more so if it affects you during the holidays — I would know, I’ve been there. But wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to help avoid pneumonia? Well, the answer might be exercise.

A Little Background on Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection that affects our lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, fungi, or even viruses. People who are most prone to the hazards of pneumonia are 65+ year-olds and children who are five years of age or under.

That said, it has been found that those who get COVID may find themselves faced with pneumonia — which is precisely what happened to me and landed me in the hospital due to low oxygen levels. Others have experienced the same complications that I have, and the severity has been both more severe and cases that were less severe.

In addition, people who have certain medical conditions like diabetes, heart diseases, or asthma are also prone to pneumonia. If you’re a smoker, you are also at a higher risk of pneumonia.

Being in the hospital can also put you at a greater risk of pneumonia because of mechanisms that disrupt normal breathing, like the insertion of an endotracheal tube, if needed.

Can Exercise Really Help You Avoid Pneumonia?

A study led by the University of Bristol and published in GeroScience Magazine first confirmed the correlation between physical activities and the threat of pneumonia. They found that the benefits of physical activities are well known and can mitigate the effects or severity of pneumonia.

The study aimed at answering the following questions:

  • Is there a correlation between regular physical activity and future threats of pneumonia?
  • If a correlation is established, what is the nature and strength of it?
  • If a direct link is present, does it vary across groups of people, or is it uniform?

According to a study conducted by Mark Neuman, women who exercised more frequently and walked more were less vulnerable and better able to avoid pneumonia. To be exact, women who walked more had an 18% less chance of developing pneumonia than women who walked less or engaged in zero exercise.

Dr. Setor Kunutsor of the Bristol Medical School commented saying, “In this first-ever pooled analysis of all scientific studies done on the topic, we found strong and convincing evidence of a relationship between regular exercise and reduction in a person’s risk of developing pneumonia as well as death from the disease.”

 However, even after so much extensive research, researchers have yet to determine the intensity and the amount of physical activity required to see the most benefits and help avoid pneumonia.

Immune Response to Exercise

Studies have shown prior to the research in question that when an individual exercises, their immune function is also enhanced. It further establishes that exercise can mitigate the effects of age-related decline of immune function.

To prove their stance, they cited the example of older women who developed an enhanced natural killer cell activity by undergoing resistance training. In normal cases, natural killer cell activity dwindles with age, but with a proper exercise program in place, they were seen to undergo a slower process of attenuation.

When a similar experiment was conducted on the longshoremen of San Francisco, it was observed that physical inactivity was seen as a reason for the increase in overall mortality and a marginal increase in the deaths caused by pneumonia.

Another study demonstrated that people who were involved in aerobic exercises were seen to develop greater amounts of anti-influenza IgG and IgM.

Ways to Prevent the Onset of Pneumonia in Hospital Patients

  • Make sure that your hands and the hands of your healthcare providers are sanitized all the time. Every time you sneeze, cough, or go to the restroom, make sure your hands are sanitized. Doctors should wear gloves while treating patients, especially if they are on a breathing device.
  • The usage of tubes should be minimal. Doctors should think about reducing the time that a tube is used. If someone is undergoing surgery, they should ask their anesthesiologist if regional anesthesia is feasible.
  • When a doctor wants you to get up and walk around, it is not just for your physical benefit. It is also with the motive of getting you to breathe naturally and through deep breaths so that you can avoid pneumonia setting in.

Exercises to Help Avoid Pneumonia

Below are a couple of exercises you can do to help avoid pneumonia (other than the typical aerobic exercise you should be focusing on throughout the week).

1.      Pursed Lip Breathing

This exercise decreases the number of breaths you take, resulting in your airways staying open longer. You can pass in more air with your nose and into your lungs which keeps the organ functioning at an optimal level.

2.      Diaphragmatic Breathing

Start breathing with your nose as you would for pursed-lip breathing. Observe how your stomach expands as if it’s filling up with air.

To visualize it, you can place your hands or a flat object on your stomach so that you can be aware of your stomach being inflated and deflated. Exhale with your mouth at least two to three times as long as you inhale. Make sure that your shoulders and neck are in a relaxed position as you keep using your diaphragm to empty out the air from your lungs.

The American Lung Association suggests that every individual should exercise with moderate intensity for around thirty minutes a day in order to keep their lungs healthy. Strive for 150 minutes of physical activity each week. They also advocate for you to work with personal trainers to get an exercise program that is best suited according to your needs.

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