The average American, whether they do it or not, knows that exercising regularly is important to health and longevity. However, most people in the west do not realize an easy way to make their workout more effective:
Breathing properly helps to oxygenate your muscles and improve your athletic performance. Beyond that, and applicable even when you aren’t exercising, breathing properly can help you control stress, lower blood pressure, help you to focus, and balance your nervous system. All this from a basic physical activity.
Most people, though, don’t breathe properly and don’t know that they aren’t breathing properly. How do you know if this applies to you? Some signs of improper breathing include, frequent sighing, breathing through your mouth, upper chest breathing, erratic breathing, and “chronic rhinitis (nasal congestion and runny nose).”
So, what is proper breathing? One method is called the Buteyko Method which includes nose breathing, breath control, and relaxation. Other researchers advocate including diaphragmatic breathing as part of a healthy breathing pattern.
Nose breathing is useful for several reasons, including that your nose contains nitric oxide, which has antibacterial properties. Additionally, nitric oxide is also a bronchodilator and vasodilator. Essentially, what this means is that nitric oxide helps your lungs to breathe with less obstructions and widens the blood vessels in the body.
Additionally, breathing through your nose is helpful while exercising because it helps to control your heart rate and blood pressure. Because elevated heart rate and blood pressure can cause fatigue and dizziness, re-training yourself to breathe through your nose can help your endurance and athletic performance over time.
Many people do not realize that diaphragmatic breathing is an effective (and non-drug) method to control stress in the body. Geoff Neuport writes in Men’s Health Magazine:
“[T]here are some important benefits to regularly practicing diaphragmatic breathing. You can do it to replace a workout when you’re overly stressed… or you can do it at the end of your workout… Here’s how to do it: Pick a comfortable position to lie down, either on your stomach or on your back. Then close your eyes, think about your favorite vacation, and just breathe for the next 5 minutes or more.
You’ll be surprised by not only how good you feel after you’ve done it, but by how well you’ll sleep that night and how recovered you’ll feel for your next workout. Sure, diaphragmatic breathing may not be ‘killer,’ but it might just be what you need to end a killer day.”
In other words, taking the time to relax and breathe using your diaphragm can redirect both your thinking and your physiological response to stressful situations and everyday life stress. The additional benefits of diaphragmatic breathing on sleep and workout recovery will spill over into your following workouts and enable you to step up your performance. Men’s Health also incorporating abdominal breathing exercises into your pre-exercise warm-up and post-exercise cool-down routines.
In short, learn proper breathing through your nose, using your diaphragm, and incorporating relaxation to help your exercise and your overall health.