Friday, May 22, 2020

Breathing exercises to fight COVID-19

(This is a serious blog post for once)

Today I learnt from the BBC that “those with the most severe form of the disease have extremely low numbers of an immune cell called a T-cell”.[1] This T-cell, otherwise known as T lymphocytes, drop drastically in COVID-19 patients, as observed by scientists from the Francis Crick Institute, King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. As the BBC summary states:

In a microlitre (0.001ml) drop of blood, normal healthy adults have between 2,000 and 4,000 T-cells, also called T lymphocytes. The Covid patients the team tested had between 200-1,200.

Research at Columbia University seems to dovetail well with these findings.[2] Prof Adrian Hayday (Crick Institute) hopes to treat lymphocytes reduction with Interleukin 7, and I hope this succeeds. But the reason for noting these issues is to draw attention to the practice of intermittent hypoxia, which, according to one scientific paper,[3] measurably increases lymphocytes. After 30 minutes, it can be measured. After 7 hours, the increase seems to be around 500 (in a microlitre drop of blood).

As you can see from “Study Design and Training Procedure” in the essay, “Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system”, the programme is simple. Apart from cold exposure and meditation, the breathing exercises are straightforward. Take in roughly 30 large breaths of air into the lungs, then exhale and hold your breath for as long as you comfortably can do so. Repeat this three to five times daily. Here’s a video/audio example of how to do this, and it is very easy:

The woo woo often associated with such things understandably make eyes roll. Or it comes across as a plain creepy; I totally get that. So, and if you are like me, simply suspend your disbelief for a bit. If you aren’t like me and love all the woo woo, good for you, weirdo!

To what extent these exercises maintain increased lymphocytes over extended periods, whether other factors mitigate against this, etc., are questions that need to be explored. But as a) few seem to be talking about this association and, b), intermittent hypoxia is easy to achieve with a few breathing exercises, I thought I’d point out these connections as – who knows – it might save lives.

If you know anyone who knows what they are talking about (!), please ask them to point out the problems with the reasoning above, disabuse me of my confidence and I will delete or at least update this post.

Until then, I will continue with the 3-5 rounds of Wim-Hof inspired breathing exercises to generate intermittent hypoxia. And I would encourage you to do the same, with the hope that it increases (and maintains the increase) of T lymphocytes, which could be the key to fighting the most severe forms of COVID-19.

(My apologies for failing to include full bibliographical information in the footnotes. But life is short and I couldn’t be bothered.)

[1] “Coronavirus: Immune clue sparks treatment hope”, by Victoria Gill & Rachael Buchanan,, accessed 22/05/20
[2] “T cells found in coronavirus patients ‘bode well’ for long-term immunity”, by Mitch Leslie,, accessed 22/05/20
[3] “Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans”, by Matthijs Kox, Lucas T. van Eijk, Jelle Zwaag, Joanne van den Wildenberg, Fred C. G. J. Sweep, Johannes G. van der Hoeven, and Peter Pickkersa,, accessed 22/05/20.

See also:

“Hypoxia and hypoxia-inducible factors as regulators of T cell development, differentiation, and function”, by Eóin N. McNamee, Darlynn Korns Johnson, Dirk Homann, and Eric T. Clambey,, accessed 22/05/20

“The trinity of COVID-19: immunity, inflammation and intervention”, by Matthew Zirui Tay, Chek Meng Poh, Laurent Rénia, Paul A. MacAry & Lisa F. P. Ng,, accessed 22/05/20


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