There is something we can say we have done and will do every day of our lives: breathe. Moreover, we can be sure that we will do it quite well; If this did not happen, we would die (or we would need mechanical ventilation to avoid doing so). However, a quick search on the internet immediately turns up results that show there is room for improvement in breathing too. There are techniques, there are practices. Keeping yourself alive is just the foundation; Better breathing can be used for many other things.
Before moving on to the potential benefits of incorporating these techniques and breathing exercises into your daily routine, let’s start from the beginning: Can a healthy person, without any respiratory disorders, breathe better than now? “In many cases it is very likely,” says Miguel Soro, a member of the board of directors of the Spanish Association of Physiotherapists (AFI). “Ever since we were children we have been given advice on various aspects related to health. As far as breathing is concerned, we have always been stressed that the correct way to do it is to take air in through the nose and exhale through the mouth, but, apart from that, it is not very common. That we are taught the correct way of breathing. ,” he indicates…
Experts explain that the diaphragm, the main respiratory muscle that contracts and relaxes to allow air to enter and exit the lungs, is underutilized in many cases, which “changes in other aspects our ventilatory mechanics and our Affects lung capacity”. Yet, even with an underutilized diaphragm, most people will not notice that they need to work on improving their breathing. This shallow breath is almost always sufficient, says researcher and respiratory physiotherapist Gerard Muñoz Castro, member of the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR). However, when it is necessary to use the respiratory muscles to exert effort, “it is important to have an adequate respiratory pattern”, something that can be trained.
Soro explains that the first direct benefit of better breathing is that it is made “deeper and more efficient”, which “helps to oxygenate the body in a more adequate way and makes these muscles stronger and function correctly.” Does.” This especially applies to people with chronic respiratory disorders, although, as Gerard Muñoz points out, “the scientific evidence of this improvement in efficiency in healthy people is not so clear.”
Better breathing “can also mean improved physical capacity and therefore contribute to better development of peripheral muscles,” says Munoz. In fact, it has been speculated that it may be possible to improve its strength through certain breathing techniques. main, although there is no “strong scientific evidence” in this regard. Soro says better oxygenation can improve sports performance. In fact, he explains, “respiratory muscle training is already being incorporated into the routines of many athletes as a complement to the training of their own discipline, as it is another aspect on which to improve their performance.” Attention should be paid to.”
better posture, less pain
Regardless of whether or not breathing better can help us in everyday life or while playing sports, when we do not have any respiratory problems, there are other benefits that can be obtained from doing specific breathing exercises. For example, according to a study published in 2022 International Journal of Environmental Research and public healthCompared to yoga and Pilates-based programs, a breathing exercise program guided by a physical therapist can improve posture, muscle balance, and pectoral mobility. However, the exercises performed by the study participants (women between the ages of 20 and 22) did not simply involve lying on the floor, breathing in a specific way, but breathing in a variety of positions and sometimes involving Included. At a slow pace.
Practicing some breathing exercises will also help us recover before surgery. It is common in hospitals that patients undergoing certain operations also undergo respiratory rehabilitation and, in recent years, prehabilitation is also being introduced, that is, doing these exercises beforehand. “These respiratory rehabilitation or ‘prehabilitation’ programs have shown reduced post-operative complications, reduced hospitalization time or less functional impairment. In more colloquial language we can say that if you approach the surgical intervention in a ‘better condition’, the ability to recover from the post-operative period will also be better,” says Gerard Muñoz Castro.
Another area that has been much studied is pain. On the one hand, as Miguel Soro points out, in many cases a decrease in respiratory capacity is related to neck pain. By training breathing, “we can improve or prevent these types of conditions at certain times.” In fact, the lung function of people with chronic neck pain is usually not optimal, so specific training focused on improving breathing can also help relieve that pain. Also in case of other pain like lower back pain, it has been observed that breathing exercises help in reducing it. Additionally, since breathing techniques help to relax and reduce stress, they also help in relieving pain.
Breathe to improve stress and anxiety
“Learning conscious breathing is one of the first treatments that is carried out in all interventions with anxiety and stress,” says Ismael Dorado, organizational secretary of the Spanish Society for the Study of Anxiety and Stress (SEAS). As a clear example of how breathing has to do with this, experts ask us to think about when we get scared. “Automatically, we shorten our breaths,” he explains. “States of anxiety and stress are related to respiratory rate, so controlling breathing, a conscious intervention, is one of the first things that We can do it for our own good,” he explains.
There have also been many studies on the effect of conscious breathing on our psychological state. One of them, from 2015, concluded that slow breathing practices (less than ten breaths per minute, with exhalations longer than inhalation) can reduce stress and anxiety levels. As far as why breathing in a particular way gives us relief, there are many possible reasons. For example, it has been proven that this type of breathing reduces the level of cortisol (the so-called “stress hormone”) in saliva and can lower blood pressure.
Ismael Dorado of SEAS says this conscious and relaxing breathing “directly affects our brain activity.” This is because “breathing has a direct connection with different parts of the cerebral cortex, areas where thinking, perception, imagination arise and also in processes directly related to learning, attention and, above all, memory (because bad breathing Taking it gives us poor sleep, which damages memory).” Taking a deep breath can help improve all of these.
Although scientific evidence is gradually becoming clear that doing breathing exercises can have many health benefits, it is also important to understand that there is still much more to be investigated. Most studies have very small samples and focus on the short term and, as a meta-analysis published in 2023 warned about the effects of breathing exercises on mental health and stress, we have to rely on the hype and the evidence. One must be cautious to avoid mixing. Still, the experts consulted believe it may be a good idea to incorporate some breathing exercises into your daily routine.
The first step, Miguel Soro advises, is to “look at how we breathe”, that is, analyze our usual patterns and see what can be improved. From there, he proposed two examples “that can help us breathe and relax correctly”:
- Diaphragmatic breathing. “This exercise involves deep breathing using the diaphragm. To practice this, sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand while your chest remains relatively still. Exhale slowly through your mouth, allowing your abdomen to contract. Repeat this process several times, focusing on taking deep, slow breaths.
- Breathing with apnea. “This exercise involves inhaling, holding the air, exhaling and holding the air again, all at equal intervals. To practice this, inhale slowly for a count of four, hold it for a count of four, exhale slowly for a count of four and hold it again for a count of four. Repeat this process several times while maintaining a constant rhythm.
Ismael Dorado, for his part, describes a variation of this last technique, which he recommends practicing before sleeping, when we realize that we are in a complex situation or before making an important decision. “It’s about inflating our lungs to the maximum until we can stand it, holding it for three seconds, releasing the air for five and waiting three seconds again before repeating. Dedicating a minute to this breathing rhythm can help a lot,” he explains.
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