Most people exercise to let go of tension and stress; however, most people do not know that breathing and exercise go hand-in-hand to create that sense of happiness and well being that we’re all looking for when we decide to hit the gym or start a new exercise routine.
But have you ever wondered why breathing is so important? I mean, really wondered. We hear about breathing and exercise so much these days, but it can be a little overwhelming if we’re already prone to anxiety. We don’t need to wonder whether or not we’re breathing right on top of already trying to relax!
Surprisingly enough, we don’t need to pay much attention to our breathing while we exercise. So, if you're prone to anxiety, listen up! When we begin to exhale harder on that last stretch of our treadmill routine, it’s not because our lungs need more oxygen. It’s because we need to exhale carbon dioxide, which builds up in our exhausted muscles as we reach the last stretch of our workout.
When we exercise, our brain directs us to breathe faster or to start breathing through our mouths. Our body knows what to do so this generally happens without us having to put much thought into it.
However, there are ways to breathe BETTER during your workout and here’s how:
Exhale when you lift and inhale when you lower your weights. This will prevent you from holding your breath and spiking your blood pressure.
Slow, deep breathing is the way to go. This type of breathing triggers the relaxation response and helps the brain and body stay loose and relaxed. If you’re a cross country runner, your breathing may become more rapid and shallow as you run up a hill, for example. This is normal.
For the most efficient swimming workout, exhale through your nose or mouth as soon as you finish breathing in. It will take some practice to get used to breathing and swimming exercises. You just need to force the breathing rhythm into a habit. You shouldn’t struggle, but breathing should be constant.
For yoga, slow breathing is key. Narrow the back of your throat to make a buzzing sound each time you inhale and exhale.
Breathing and exercise: why it’s important and why you should care
If you’re a complete stress ball while you’re working out, chances are you’re not going to get the most out of your workout. Breathing can either rev up or calm down our autonomic nervous system, which controls our heartbeat, the release of hormones and other vital functions.
If you’re feeling stressed out before your workout, try these two breathing exercises:
Basic slow breathing can cause our stress-hormone levels to decline and our metabolic rate to slow. This will result in a temporary sense of calm and well-being.
Sit or lie down in a relaxed position and exhale completely and slowly count to five as you inhale through your nose. With your lungs full of air, hold your breath for a second or two, and then count to five as you slowly exhale through your nose. Pause for a second or two when your lungs are empty and start the process anew. Continue for five to 10 minutes.
Right-nostril breathing will help you feel more energized. Make sure you’re comfortable before you get started. Close off your left-nostril with your left thumb and inhale/exhale through your right nostril for three to five minutes. Research shows that this can elevate blood pressure—causing us to feel more energized.
Left-nostril breathing has the opposite effect. This breathing exercise actually lowers blood pressure and produces a more calming effect.
How breathing can boost your exercise performance
Studies have found that when your breathing muscles fatigue, your other muscles fatigue as well. The good news is that the breathing exercises listed above can do wonders for your breathing health.
If you’re still feeling stressed, try these breathing exercises:
Deep and shallow breathing
Sit in a chair and place one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath into your hand and feel your stomach rise as you inhale. Place that same hand at your stomach’s base and take another deep breath. Focus on trying to get your stomach to push your hand up toward the sky while your chest remains still. Repeat for 6-8 breaths and then combine the chest and stomach breaths together.
This maximizes oxygen levels and opens up the lungs.
Let go of the stress and breathe it out
Take a big, slow inhale and hold for three seconds. Then, place your top front teeth on your bottom lip and release a passive exhale. Your exhale should take at least twice as long as your inhale. At the bottom of the exhale, pause for a moment, and then repeat.
This exercise helps quell anxiety and slow down your heart rate.
Release that tension
Lie down on the floor and combine the two exercises listed above. Close your eyes. On every exhale, focus on relaxing a part of your body. Start at your feet and work your way up to your forehead.
When you’re tense you use more energy than you need to. This energy will help un-tense your body and conserve some of your valuable energy.
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