Healthy ways to think about COVID-19; inspiratory muscle training

A: I never want to advocate worry--that's harmful to your physical and mental health. But being aware and action-oriented, that's a smart way to approach all of life's challenges. So, here's what you should be aware of and the actions to take.

If you've had COVID-19, whether you're vaccinated and boosted or not, getting it again isn't something to shrug off, especially if you had complications in various organ systems during your first bout or had long COVID-19. According to a study in Nature Medicine, those first-infection experiences increase your risk for getting a complication from COVID-19 by two or three times! When you're reinfected, you're more likely to have "elevated risks for organ problems, diabetes, and issues with mental health, bones, muscles and nerves. You also have more than double the risk of death and a more than three times the risk of hospitalization compared with those who are infected with COVID just once."

Now listen up: The fact that some folks are getting COVID-19 more than once -- even when vaccinated -- isn't to say vaccines are not protective. One study found that among folks who got COVID-19 before being vaccinated and then contracted the virus again ... well, the vaccines prevented 80% to 90% of hospitalizations and deaths from reinfection. And the new bivalent booster increases your protection.

So, yes, everyone (for themselves and for others around them) should be up-to-date on vaccinations and boosters. And please continue to be aware of situations with increased risk of infection or reinfection -- indoors in shops and venues, at home with groups of friends/family -- and take precautions. Wear a mask. Wash your hands regularly. In certain situations and gatherings, don't hesitate to ask guests to get a COVID-19 test the day before coming, or choose to wear an N95 mask.

Q: I'd like to improve my breathing so I don't get so winded when I exercise. I am 62 and have been a active all my life. Any ideas? -- Josie R., Bozeman, Montana

A: I think you'll be as inspired by inspiratory muscle training as I am. You do strength training for your arms and legs. Well, this is strength training for your diaphragm -- the big muscle that stretches your lungs downward -- and your intercostal muscles, which are three layers of muscles that fill the spaces between your ribs.

IMT uses a handheld device called an inspiratory muscle trainer to help athletes and folks with breathing problems and asthma improve their stamina. It can also keep everyday folks from feeling winded when climbing stairs or even just walking. A Journal of the American Heart Association study even found that doing 30 breaths a day, six days a week for six weeks lowered the systolic blood pressure (the top number) by nine points for folks who were having trouble controlling their blood pressure.

Here are two exercises to acquaint you with the intercostal muscles and diaphragm without using a device: For the intercostal muscles, stand with both arms straight up over your head. Inhale deeply, and on the exhale stretch both arms to your right. Feel the stretch on the intercostal muscles on your left side. Reverse. Repeat twice. To meet your diaphragm, take your fingers and place them under your ribs on both sides. Breathe in deeply; then exhale slowly. Feel your diaphragm move up and down. Those are the target areas for your IMT.

So how do you do this training? Using the inspiratory muscle trainer you inhale forcefully against resistance. The style of device, frequency of training, number of repetitions and amount of resistance should be individualized for you by your physician or respiratory therapist. Higher "intensity" might be used for a strength-oriented training session or a lower "intensity" for endurance-oriented sessions, for example. I think you will be thrilled with the results.

Health pioneer Michael Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer emeritus at the Cleveland Clinic and author of four No. 1 New York Times bestsellers. His next book is "The Great Age Reboot: Cracking the Longevity Code for a Younger Tomorrow." Do you have a topic Dr. Mike should cover in a future column? If so, please email [email protected].

King Features Syndicate

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