How can we breathe for health?

Breathing is a vital behaviour that ensures an adequate supply of oxygen and elimination of CO2.  Human lungs inhale and exhale 23,000 times a day. Breathing is automatic, involuntary and continuous. However, if you start to focus on improving how you breathe you may see improvements in your physical and mental health.  

Ways to help

  • If you are a city dweller reduce your exposure by using quieter streets and avoid exercising during rush-hour.
  • It goes without saying, stop smoking and bin those e-cigarettes.
  • At home use natural cleaning detergents and avoid burning incense and overdoing frying foods.
  • Compared to the mouth, the nose is a more effective filter for preventing particles and water-soluble gases and vapours from reaching the lungs so avoid mouth breathing, especially when exercising outdoors.
  • Perform breathing exercises as these can affect the stress response system and relax the mind and body whilst stimulating circulation, improving oxygen transfer to tissues and facilitating a relaxation response. 

Breathing for anxiety and sleep

The 4-7-8 breathing pattern aims to reduce anxiety and promote sleep. Adopt a comfortable seated position and place your tongue where the ridge of the gum meets the upper front teeth. Empty your lungs fully and then inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat 4 times, twice a day. 

Breathing for stress relief

Deep diaphragmatic breathing activates a relaxation response as slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the stem of the brain to the abdomen. It is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” activities. To perform diaphragmatic “belly” breathing lie on your back and bend your knees.

Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in slowly via your nose, filling your belly and feeling it rise whilst your chest remains still. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, your hand should move down to your original position whilst your chest remains still. Continue for 5 minutes. Repeat twice a day.

Author: Kathryn Fielding