We are back again with another Friday Fitness Feature! Today we are talking about the thing that you should be doing now if you are alive and reading this blog: Breathing! But as some of you may notice, breathing isn’t always as easy as we would like it to be, especially during exercise or times of stress. Proper breathing technique can help decrease any breathlessness that you might experience throughout each day. The other day I actually read an interesting article about breathlessness during exercise and its differences between genders.
A study out of McGill University in Canada, conducted by Dr. Dennis Jensen analyzed the differences in breathlessness during exertion between men and women. Stationary bicycle maximal exercise tests were performed on 50 healthy men and women between 20 and 40 years old. During the test perceived breathlessness as well as electrical activity of the diaphragm were recorded.
The study concluded that women have “greater electrical activation of the respiratory muscles — specifically the diaphragm” during exercise compared to men. The findings of the study indicated that in women the greater activation of the respiratory muscles worked as a compensatory mechanism needed for their generally smaller respiratory system. This means that at a given workload women have a higher ventilatory rate than men and, therefore, are more prone to feeling short of breath during exertion.
Just because this study determined that women are more likely to feel short of breath when exercising at the same level as a man does not mean this is always the case. If good breathing technique and control are implemented into an exercise program then women, being more susceptible to experiencing breathlessness, can certainly exercise at an even higher workload than their male friends.
This is definitely the case whenever Maxine and I do yoga or rock climb together! When holding certain yoga positions like airplane, or when going through a quick flow I really have to concentrate on my breathing or else it will become sporadic and I will lose my balance. Maxine, on the other hand, gives true meaning to yoga flow and I very rarely see her struggling because she has good control over her breath. Maxine also has similar control of her breath when rock climbing because she is the type of person to think and plan out her route before jumping on the wall. She takes her time and makes every move very precisely, following each of her breaths. However, I am one of those kinds of people that usually only learns by trying, failing, trying, and failing again until I finally succeed. I will admit that this is most definitely not the best technique. While I’m on the wall I have a tendency to hold my breath when I am really exerting myself so I can reach the next rock. This is not at all what you want to do! I am still learning how to control my breathing to save my energy for the exercise I am performing, as well as during times I feel stressed to calm myself down.
Having good control of your breath should not only apply to times you are exercising but also throughout your entire life. If at any time in your life you are feeling stressed, anxious, or angry you can always press the pause button to focus on your breathing. Good breathing techniques have been shown to greatly calm people down in stressful situations, increase awareness, and even improve mood. Slower, deeper breathing slows down your heart rate and increases the amount of oxygen getting to your brain so you can think more clearly. The miracle of slow controlled breathing! But what are the best breathing techniques for exercise and daily life you ask?! I’ve got you covered:
Breathing during cardiovascular exercise: Pursed lip breathing
This type of breathing is exactly how it sounds. Inhale through your nose and exhale out your mouth through pursed lips (imagine a straw between your lips). Think about smelling the roses and blowing out the candles! When your heart is pumping fast and your respiration rate has increased, pursed lip breathing creates backflow in your airways and increases the oxygenation of your blood, which decreases fatigue. This technique can even be implemented during exertional daily tasks like walking up a steep hill, climbing stairs, or pushing the lawn mower.
Breathing during weight training or other anaerobic (non-cardio) exercise:
Always inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Inhale during the rest phase of the exercise and exhale during the exertion phase. Examples of the exertion phase of an exercise are when you are pressing your body away from the ground (against gravity) when doing a squat or push-up. So exhale through your mouth when you are pushing up. Remember Exhale during Exertion!
Caution: Never hold your breath or bare down while exerting yourself! This is called the Valsalva Maneuver and is not recommended during exertion because of the danger of fainting, spontaneous aneurysm, and increased blood pressure.
Breathing to relieve stress during your daily life: Big belly cleansing breaths
Sit comfortably in a chair with your back straight, one hand on your chest, and the other resting on your abdomen. Possibly close your eyes to really get in the zen mode if you feel so inclined. Inhale nice and deep through your nose so that you can feel your belly rise and expand. Hold that breath in for a few seconds and then exhale slowly through your mouth while contracting your abdominal muscles so that you can feel your belly move in and down. Exhale as much air as possible before inhaling again. With the hand on your chest you should gradually feel your heart rate slow as you progress through the slow breathing cycle.
Try implementing these breathing techniques into your exercise program and into your daily life. You will be able to exert yourself at higher levels without becoming as fatigued by controlling your breath. You will also decrease your overall stress levels by analyzing how you are feeling, taking a few moments to relax, and focusing on your breath.
Go ahead, take a break today to inhale and exhale your way to being Happily Ever Healthy.
Please follow the link below if you would like to read the Science Daily article that I referenced in today’s Friday Fitness Feature:
Schaeffer M, Mendonca C, Levangie M, Anderson R, Taivassalo T and Jensen D. Physiological mechanisms of sex differences in exertional dyspnea: Role of neural respiratory motor drive. Experimental Physiology, November 2013