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Exercising your Heart and Lungs:

Keeping Yourself Healthy During COVID-19 Curfew

Posted by Christopher J. Cordero, PT, DPT, OCS 
Physical Therapist
Board-certified Clinical Specialist, Orthopedic Physical Therapy
HNH Fitness, Center for Physical Rehabilitation on March 20, 2020


During this challenging time, it is important to remember that our bodies and vital organs perform much more efficiently when we exercise daily. However, this may become difficult as many individuals, especially the elderly, are limited to staying in their own homes.

Here are some helpful tips and exercises to help keep your body in shape. Remember to check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.

Diaphragmatic Breathing for Lung Health

The diaphragm is a muscle with a direct link to our lungs. If you take shallow breaths or only breathe using your upper chest and neck muscles, then you are not allowing your lungs to fully absorb oxygenated air deep into the lower lobes. Therefore, think of your diaphragm as a suction tube pulling air deep into your lungs.

Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the first exercises I teach virtually every patient. The diaphragm is a unique muscle that is both involuntary and voluntary. This means that the diaphragm can either operate on its own without thinking about it, or can contract and relax on command. However, just like any other muscle, the more you exercise it, the more efficient it becomes.

How to Exercise the Diaphragm

Begin by placing one hand over the center of your chest, and one over your bellybutton. Take a deep breath in through your nose and fill your stomach with air. You should only feel the hand on your stomach rising with the breath. Next, purse your lips (i.e. blowing a bubble) and slowly release all of the air in your stomach through your mouth. The speed at which you blow the air out is important. Make sure it passes the “flickering the flame” test. Pretend you are holding a lit candle about 6 inches from your mouth. The air you release should be just enough to make the flame flicker, but not enough to blow out the candle.

Set a timer for 3 minutes and breathe slowly in and out in this fashion.

Keep your Body Moving

  1. Doorway Stretch

    Movement: Stand in front of a doorway with your hands/forearms placed along the door frame. Take a step through with either leg and lean forward onto your front foot until a gentle stretch is felt along the front of your shoulders/chest.

    Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times.
  2. Shoulder Retraction

    Movement: Standing or sitting upright with good posture, gently squeeze your shoulder blades together down and back.

    Hold for 3 seconds, relax, and repeat 20 times.

  3. Standing Heel Raises-Toe Raises

    Movement: Standing or sitting, raise up onto your toes, then slowly lower down. Next, raise your toes up toward the ceiling, then slowly lower down. Hold on to a railing or kitchen counter for support

    Perform 20 times each.

  4. Standing Hip Abduction

    Movement: Standing with your toes pointed forward, slowly raise one leg out toward the side without leaning or moving your upper trunk.

    Perform 10 times each leg, rest, and repeat for 3 sets (30 total each leg).

  5. Standing Alternating Marches

    Movement: March in place alternating between your left and right leg.

    Perform 30 total marches, or 15 each leg.

  6. Sit to Stand

    Movement: Standing in front of a firm chair, slowly sit and stand in place, avoiding plopping or using excessive momentum. You may use your hands to assist as needed.

    Perform 10 times, rest, and repeat for 3 sets (30 total).


Finally, one of the best activities for overall cardiovascular fitness and endurance is walking. Try walking around your house or outside periodically throughout the day, keeping in mind to avoid close contact with anyone.

Christopher J. Cordero, PT, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist and board-certified specialist in orthopedic physical therapy by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Dr. Cordero practices at HNH Fitness and also runs the Sports Performance Academy, training athletes of all ages with a focus on implementing evidence-based injury prevention techniques and developing proper body mechanics. Dr. Cordero finds passion in the clinical and educational aspects of physical therapy, using manual orthopedic techniques and exercise to help patients regain function in their lives.

Dr. Cordero can be reached by email at ccordero@holyname.org.

Call to schedule an appointment at 201-265-1076.

HNH Fitness | 514 Kinderkamack Road | Oradell, NJ | 07649