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Breathe Your Way to Better Health & Less Stress

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Man sitting down practicing deep breathing

Breathing is an automatic function that seems simple – you breathe in, you breathe out. You don’t have to think about it. But maybe you should. There are multiple benefits that can be gained from purposeful, mindful breathing, including better health and lower stress levels.

Health Benefits of Breathing Exercises

“Certain breathing techniques have been proven to enhance the functioning of the heart and lungs, improve mental wellness, increase energy and concentration, and promote better sleep,” says Robert J. Snyder, MAEd, BSHS, RRT, RCP, a respiratory therapist at University Hospitals.

When deep breathing techniques are practiced regularly and correctly, they can provide the following health benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate. When you take deep, measured breaths, it triggers a relaxation response. Blood vessels open wider, making it easier for the heart to pump blood.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety. Slow, deliberate breathing sends a message to your brain that everything is okay. This calms the nervous system and reduces levels of stress hormones in the blood.
  • Enhance immune response. Improved blood flow and less stress hormones help the body clear germs and viruses from the blood more efficiently.
  • Improve muscle function. The improved blood flow that occurs with relaxation delivers more oxygen and essential nutrients to the muscles so they can function properly.

Types of Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises are easy to learn and do. And, unless they are part of a prescribed program to treat specific lung conditions, they don’t require any clinical supervision.

Here are some common breathing techniques to help reduce stress and anxiety:

  • Pursed Lip Breathing. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale very slowly through pursed lips, with each exhalation lasting longer than the inhalation.
  • Diaphragmatic (Belly) Breathing. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Inhale deeply through your nose so that you can feel the belly expanding while the chest remains still. Then exhale slowly through your mouth.
  • Equal or Sama Vritti Breathing. Breathe in and out through your nose, while counting the length of your inhale and your exhale. The goal is to make the inhales and exhales last the same length of time.
  • 4-7-8 Breathing. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and then exhale for eight seconds through the mouth. This breathing exercise is known for its calming effects on the body and mind and may help some people fall asleep.
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing. Use your ring finger to press one nostril closed. Keep your mouth closed and breathe in slowly through the open nostril. Release your finger and press the other nostril closed, while slowly and completely exhaling through the open nostril.
  • One Minute or Box Breath. While comfortably seated, inhale slowly for 10 seconds, hold for 10 seconds, and then exhale slowly for 10 seconds. You can start with a shorter amount of time or work your way up to longer times, so long as every part of the exercise is the same length.

For optimal results, all of these breathing exercises should be performed for several minutes per session.

Other Tips for Better Breathing

  • Maintain adequate indoor air humidity in all seasons so you are not breathing in dry air.
  • Practice good posture to keep the chest cavity open and allow for full lung expansion.
  • Change the air filter on your furnace and air conditioner as recommended.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid environments with excess dust (construction sites, ball fields when windy, BBQ smoke and campfires – if unavoidable, wear a mask over mouth and nose.
  • Use an air purifier to reduce unhealthy particles in the air, including those that may contain germs and viruses.

Related Links:

University Hospitals offers a supervised pulmonary rehabilitation program for patients with chronic lung conditions such as asthma, COPD, and lung cancer. Patients are taught specific breathing exercises to help manage their disease and improve stamina for performing daily activities.

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