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The power of breathing exercises and one mistake you might be making

It’s Love Your Lungs week so we want to fill yours with some powerful stuff about breathing exercises, the abundance of benefits and the importance of regular practice. The results for our physical and mental health are bountiful, but you might need a little more convincing that it’s a way to show love to your lungs - so keep reading.

When we think of breathing exercises, for many, they just sound a bit wishy washy. As if there’s not much to it than breathing in and out and we do that automatically. So what’s so good about them?

Well, in a moment of stress, panic or distress, a few deep breaths (or 10) can help us regain some clarity and calm amongst chaos. Slow, deep breathing sends a message to our brain that reminds it we are safe, we don’t need to freak out and we can handle whatever is in front of us - even when you’re not so sure yourself.

But the power of breathing exercises on our physical fitness is significant too. Regular practice of breathing exercises can improve lung capacity and enhance overall respiratory function. Here are some key benefits:

Increased oxygen intake: Breathing exercises, such as deep breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, help expand the lungs and increase the amount of oxygen taken in with each breath. This can improve oxygen supply to the body, enhancing energy levels and reducing fatigue during physical activity.

Enhanced endurance: Improved lung capacity allows for more efficient oxygen transfer to the muscles, leading to increased endurance. Athletes and individuals engaged in aerobic activities, such as running, swimming, or cycling, can greatly benefit from increased lung capacity as it allows them to perform better and for longer durations. Even if you just do these things for fun, feeling like we can achieve more can be empowering.

Improved lung function: Breathing exercises help strengthen the respiratory muscles, including the diaphragm and intercostal muscles (those within the ribcage), which are responsible for expanding and contracting the lungs. Stronger respiratory muscles contribute to better lung function and respiratory efficiency.

Stress reduction: Certain breathing techniques, like deep breathing and mindful breathing, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels. Which can have positive effects on physical fitness by improving recovery, sleep quality, and overall well-being.

Lung health maintenance: Regular practice of breathing exercises can help maintain healthy lung function, especially in individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can improve the ability to breathe deeply and clear mucus from the airways, promoting respiratory health.

Mental focus and concentration: Breathing exercises, particularly those derived from mindfulness and meditation practices, can enhance mental focus, concentration, and mindfulness. This can be beneficial for activities that require mental clarity, such as weightlifting, yoga, or martial arts.

See the benefits really are abundant. But one mistake many people make is to just use breathing exercises when we need them. In a moment of stress, to regain focus during the working day, or before or after exercising to regain some oxygen and recover.

To maximise the benefits of breathing exercises, regular practice is recommended, if possible under guidance from a qualified instructor or a guided app which is more accessible for many of us. You don’t need to follow something, but it’s important to master the technique to ensure your practice is effective.

If this sounds a bit off-putting for you, here’s a really simple exercise you can try out to begin building your regular practice. The technique is simple to grasp and you can do this anywhere, anytime.

You might have heard of this before, known as "4-7-8" breathing:

1. Find a comfortable seated position or lie down if you prefer.

2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax.

3. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.

4. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.

5. Hold your breath for a count of 7.

6. Exhale forcefully through your mouth to a count of 8, making the whooshing sound again.

7. Repeat steps 4 to 6 for a total of four breath cycles.

Try maintaining a relaxed and comfortable pace throughout to master the technique. It's important to focus on slow, deep breaths and try to make each breath as smooth and even as possible.

Note: If you feel lightheaded or dizzy during the exercise, it's best to discontinue and resume normal breathing. If you have any pre-existing respiratory conditions or concerns, consult with a healthcare professional before engaging in new breathing exercises.




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