Breathing exercises for everyone
Breathing is fundamental
According to the American Lung Association, the average adult takes about 20,000 breaths a day.1 Like blinking or digesting our food, we do it without giving it a thought – until something happens that challenges our ability to take a deep breath. Common issues that may affect our breathing include:
- Short-term health problems like colds and coughs
- Long-term problems like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Getting older
- Overdoing exercise
In this article, we’ll share a few simple breathing exercises almost everyone can do. But first, let’s take a closer look at the mechanics of breathing.
How is breathing supposed to work?
Did you know that babies and small children do deep breathing naturally until their chests mature? Unfortunately, too many of us may go the rest of our lives without taking a proper deep breath.
Want to know what a nice, healthy breath feels like? Try this:
- Lie flat on your back. You can place some small pillows under your neck and knees if you need them. Now watch your stomach. You'll see a small rise in your stomach as you breathe in, and a slight drop as you breathe out.
- Next, put your hands, palms down and middle fingers barely touching, on your stomach at the bottom of your rib cage. Take a slow, deep breath. As you do, your stomach will expand, causing your fingertips to separate slightly. This kind of deep breathing uses all of your lungs instead of just the middle and upper parts, which is what usually happens in "chest breathing."
So why do our breathing habits change over time? According to the University of Missouri-Kansas City Center on Aging Studies, blood oxygen levels are often lowered by as much as 20 percent as we age. Weaker muscles, including the muscles around the lungs, also affect our breathing. And lower oxygen levels can even affect our mental acuity. Loss of blood oxygen brought on by weaker breathing is a big cause of forgetfulness in the elderly. It can also result in what’s called "slow thinking" in younger people.
Here are a few exercises – compliments of University of Missouri-Kansas City - that can help people of all ages breathe easy. Try to spend at least five minutes on whichever exercise you choose.
Exercise 1 — "Complete" Breathing Exercise
- Sit up straight. Let your breath out.
- Breathe in and, at the same time, relax your belly muscles. It should feel as if your belly is filling with air.
- After filling your belly, keep breathing in. Fill up the middle of your chest; feel your chest and rib cage expand.
- Hold your breath in for a moment, and then begin to let it out as slowly as possible.
- As you slowly breathe out, relax your chest and rib cage. Begin to pull your belly in to force out any leftover breath.
- Close your eyes and really focus on your breathing., relaxing your body and your mind.
Exercise 2 — "Humming" Breath Exercise
- Sit up straight. Exhale.
- Inhale and, at the same time, relax your belly muscles. Feel your belly filling with air.
- After filling your belly, keep inhaling. Fill up the middle of your chest. Feel your chest and rib cage expand.
- Now, as you begin to slowly let your breath out, make a "hum" sound. Keep making it as long as you can. Pull your stomach muscles in to squeeze out a few more seconds of humming.
Exercise 3 — Chinese Breath Exercise
- Stand up with your arms at your sides.
- Through your nose, take three short breaths without breathing out:
- On the first breath, raise your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height.
- On the next breath, open your arms straight out to your sides (still at shoulder height).
- On the third breath, lift your arms straight over your head.
- Begin to breathe out through your mouth, moving your arms back down to your sides as you do.
- Repeat 10 or 12 times. If you get lightheaded, stop the exercise.
This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional.
1 http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/how-lungs-work/ (link opens in new window)