In our daily lives, breathing is automatic and something we do not think about often. However, very few people use their lungs to full capacity. At rest, it has been reported that the average person uses only 10 – 15% of their actual lung capacity. When you exercise, your working muscles demand more oxygen and create more carbon dioxide as a result. Becoming aware of your breath when exercising can help make it more comfortable.
Proper breathing is essential during exercise. It can affect the overall quality of our workouts, energy levels and even our ability to burn fat. While exercising, many people breathe faster than they should or hold their breath completely. When we inhale, air is pulled into microscopic air sacs, called alveoli, where oxygen is delivered to red blood cells and carbon dioxide is transferred from the blood to the air through the alveoli’s’. The oxygen rich blood flows into your heart and is pumped into the rest of your body. You exhale the carbon dioxide.
The best way to breathe when exercising is called diaphragmatic breathing. It allows for deeper, fuller breaths which will improve oxygen delivery during intense workouts. Here is how to do it:
1) Relax your abdominals slightly
2) Breathe deeply enough that your belly, not your chest, rises and falls
3) Continue this technique, at your own pace
Breathing improves your cardiovascular capacity. Since cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in America currently this is something to take seriously. The more you breathe, the more air is taken in, and exercises your lungs and heart, keeping them strong and healthy. Once your heart and lungs are working proficiently together, everyday tasks become easier and therefore improves your overall quality of life.
When it comes to losing weight, the body needs two things to convert fat into energy; water and oxygen. The more you take in, the easier your body can get rid of the fat. Breathing properly and taking in fluids allows your body to lose weight faster. Decreasing water and poor breathing habits contributes to a slow metabolism since your body is focused on holding onto the resources it needs.
Yoga introduced me to how important breathing is. Breath is very important in the practice of asana or yoga postures. The breath is considered to be “prana” or life energy. We have already gone over the physical necessities of breathing but it also improves the mental as well. When we focus on breathing, the control of the breath shifts from the brain stem/medulla oblongata to the cerebral cortex (the evolved part of the brain). The thoughts and emotions are by passed and in our mind we can experience focus and calm awareness. Awareness of breath helps to manage any stress or emotional disturbances and allows for more free flowing energy. The stress and emotions we carry around with us all day create tension and stiffness in our muscles. Focusing on our breath while moving helps us to control the movements and we are less likely to injure ourselves.
Yours in health & fitness,