Updated: Apr 1
With all of the news regarding the coronavirus, I wanted to blog and share my thoughts as well as provide a small series of exercises to help train the diaphragm and other muscles that support our respiratory system.
Let’s start by laying out that I myself am a millennial. I am hyper aware of the conception that I am much more immune to this disease that is spreading around the world. My age and health nearly warrants guaranteed immunity when you consider the current statistics. Therefore, it is easy for me to express that my concerns are not for myself, but for many others that I care about.
Let’s break down my current situation. I am currently living in Los Angeles, California. I live relatively close to LAX and I work at a public gym of over 8,000 members. A gym located under 2 miles away from LAX. I am ground zero when it comes to this disease spreading in the United States.
The purpose of this blog is not to answer questions, but to explore possibilities. By no means am I an expert in this matter. I am simply expressing my questions and theories as a scientist. There is still much that we don’t know or understand. I don’t believe this is a time for us to ignore what is going on.
This is a real problem that we are facing. A problem we have never seen in modern society. A problem that seems to be straight out of a movie. There has never been a time where we needed to educate ourselves more, in my opinion. But I do have full respect for those who do not want to hear about it any longer. If you are one of those who gets anxiety driven from this topic, this would be the point I would suggest you stop reading now and scroll to the very bottom for the link to access the FREE BREATHING/CORE SERIES. For those who are interested my analysis, continue on.
I have been up until 2am the past two nights trying to learn as much as I can. Mainly because I have family back in Wisconsin that I am highly concerned for. My biggest quest during research has been trying to understand how people are dying from this disease. How exactly is the coronavirus killing people?
To directly answer this question: no one knows exactly how or why it leads to death in a small percentage of patients infected. Our best understanding comes from studying related illnesses such as severe respiratory syndrome (SARS) with experts hypothesizing that the difference between a deadly infection and one that feels like an awful cold depends on the interaction between the virus and the person’s immune system.
How does the individual’s immune system respond when it is introduced to the new virus? This seems to be the deciding factor, which is why we have such ambiguous patterns between those who are dying/severely sick (older), those who are experiencing symptoms similar to a mild cold (young adults), and those are asymptomatic (children). I am going to speak on this more soon, for now let’s stick with breaking down how this virus is killing people.
The unknown virus enters the body, attacks and kills cells, which then triggers a counterproductive overreaction by the immune system. “What you get is the initial damage and rush of inflammatory cells, but the damage is so extensive that the body’s immune response is completely overwhelmed – which causes even more immune response, more immune cells and more damage,” said Matthew Frieman, a virologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
They believe the virus begins to multiply inside cells along the airway, infecting the upper airway. As it gains strength, the dead cells collect in the airway making breathing more and more difficult. This is where the confusion lies – if the virus grows too quickly and the immune system doesn’t respond quick enough, it will not be able to control the virus.
Scientists refer to this as a “cytokine storm,” which is an immune system response of sending cells ready to do battle into the lung. The result of this not only has the virus damaging the body, but now the immune system is also wreaking havoc on the infected person.
This now leads us to our biggest question: why are the old dying and the young safe? Since experts are theorizing that this is a disruption within the immune system, we must consider many factors such as age, gender, genetics, chronic illnesses, and medical conditions. Everyone is different and everyone’s reaction can be individualistic. This is why we have such ambiguous patterns.
We know that SARS gets deep into the lungs and damages alveoli and as cellular damage accumulates, lung tissue begins to stiffen (liquify) which causes the heart to work harder. This then results in less oxygen to the rest of the organs. Very similar to coronavirus if you consider the cytokine storm.
With all that being said, at least we know most people are surviving. We still have this to hold onto. But there are still many unanswered questions. What is happening to people that are recovering? Are they fully recovering? Is anyone relapsing?
Currently, experts don’t know the long-term outcome for these individuals. It is possible that they gain immunity and will be further protected from being reinfected? Possible? Yes. Certain? No.
Without that question being answered with certainty, we know nothing. They could get a less severe case in the future. Maybe they’re not protected at all. Maybe they gain temporary immunity. This is yet another major uncertainty of the coronavirus. Information that of which is not being supplied from the Chinese government.
According to a WHO director-general, the progression of this virus can go from mild or moderate to severe very, very quickly. So, who’s to say that these individuals can’t relapse and experience the symptoms even worse? We know the virus can be asymptomatic for time, who’s to say it can’t go back to being dormant then resurface? This is such a major issue because we have no vaccine for this virus.
I am not meaning to fear monger. There is just so much we don’t know and if we aren’t asking questions and doing our roles to best understand this disease, we will never know how to fight back. The concept that I keep circling and can’t understand is the difference between the youth and the elderly when it comes to how we respond to the virus.
Once again, I am not looking for solutions to the coronavirus. That is not my role. I am trying to understand how we can empower our body and assist it in fighting back, regardless of age. Now more than ever is a time for us to work on our health from a proximal standpoint. We need to buy time; and, the best muscle for us examine in our current situation is the muscle that drives inhalation: the diaphragm.
The effects of aging on the respiratory system are similar to those that occur in other organs with maximum function gradually declining. Age-related changes in the lungs include:
· Decreases in peak airflow and gas exchange
· Decreases in measures of lung function such as vital capacity (the maximum amount of air that can be breathed out following a maximum inhalation)
· Weakening of the respiratory muscles
· Decline in the effectiveness of lung defense mechanisms
It’s important to note that the lungs do not have skeletal muscle of their own. Breathing is driven by the diaphragm, the muscles between the ribcage (intercostal muscles), the muscles in the neck, and the abdominal muscles. The diaphragm is the most important muscle used for breathing. This involves inhalation and inspiration.
The functioning of the diaphragm is directly impacting our lung capacity. The elasticity of the lungs and chest wall actively stretches during inhalation which causes them to return to their resting shape and to expel air out of the lungs when the inspiratory muscles relax. Because of this, when we are resting, no effort is needed to breathe out.
However, during exercise, multiple muscles participate in exhalation. Especially the deep abdominal muscles. When these abdominal muscles contract (exhalation), there is an increase in abdominal pressure, which then pushes a relaxed diaphragm against the lungs causing air to be pushed out.
These muscles all work together synonymously. They can only contract if the nerves connecting them to the brain are intact. This is a strength level that so many of us are lacking. We don’t even realize it. Strengthening the diaphragm seems to be an exercise only prescribed through physical therapy and anxiety/meditation practices, and now we are in the heat of a pandemic with a virus that attacks our lungs.
Being a health professional who prescribes a large amount of breath and core work, I wanted to put together a free mini-series that you can use to strengthen your diaphragm (core), and glutes. The functions of the diaphragm do not stop locally in its anatomy but impacts the whole body system. The respiratory rhythm, directly and indirectly, impacts the central nervous system (CNS).
We need to do everything we can to assist and boost our nervous system right now. Anything that can help our immune system fight back stronger is a win. Breath work is essential. I hope you enjoy the exercises.
Stay safe everyone
Free mini-series: www.flobility.com/miniseries
Research based articles: