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Are You Breathing Properly?

I have been working my breathing a lot recently, both at rest and during exercise and other physical activity. Breathing is the single most fundamental function which sustains life. We cannot survive more than a few minutes without breathing. Breathing provides a constant flow of Oxygen to our cells and a constant regulation of our Carbon Dioxide levels. Hardly any of us ever think about breathing. We just breathe. However, certain breathing patterns can be significantly better or worse for our health, fitness, stamina, stress levels and even our longevity.

In his new book "Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art", Author James Nestor documents centuries of studies and practices on breathing and finds many benefits to slower, closed mouth breathing. Nose breathing filters the air we breathe, heats it and moistens for easier absorption. Nose breathing also lowers blood pressure, lowers heart rate, eases digestion, helps with erectile disfunction, menstrual issues, as well as many other benefits. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, leads to sleep apnea, snoring, weakened immune system, poor blood and cardiovascular scores, and many other maladies.

Nestor's primary advice is to practice nose breathing with roughly 5.5 second inhales and 5.5 second exhales as much as possible (about 6 breaths per minute). It can also be beneficial to nose breathe in as controlled a manner as possible while undergoing physical exertion like weight training, bike riding, or playing tennis. The reason is slower breathing keeps your CO2 levels higher, which accomplishes several critical things: CO2 helps separate Oxygen from its Hemoglobin transport so it can be more readily absorbed by your cells. CO2 also dilates blood vessels so oxygen can be better transported to active muscles. When you breathe too fast, especially through your mouth, you expel too much CO2, which will cause reduced blood flow to muscles, tissues and organs. According to Nestor, this can result in cramps, headaches, nausea, and even blacking out.

This slower, nose based breathing recommendation runs counter to what we have coached for years at Total Results. Our long-held thought was that rapid, mouth breathing was beneficial because we wanted to reduce CO2 levels. We thought this desirable because higher CO2 levels meant more acidic blood pH levels which can hamper immediate muscular force production. Although this strategy has scientific merit, it may be suboptimal because it is likely less important than keeping optimum levels of blood flowing to the muscles as long as feasible. It appears that lowering CO2 levels may be beneficial in a short term exercise setting but not be best for your long term health and fitness. We will continue to research this seeming breathing-exercise paradox.

Another book I just completed is "The Way of The Iceman, How the Wim Hof Method Creates Radiant, Long Term, Health" by Wim Hof and Koen De Jong. Wim Hof is world renowned for his stunts involving sitting in ice baths, running up Mount Kilimanjaro in nothing but shorts, and other extreme temperature events. However, Hof's method for handling extreme temperatures and other physical demands involves controlled breathing exercises. Hof explains a number of breathing techniques he learned in India and developed over the last 25+ years, and he claims normal people like you and I can achieve amazing control over our bodies using these practices. I admit I hate cold temperatures and don't plan to practice the Wim Hof method and then go sit half naked in the snow. However, I will be trying these techniques to help my body adjust to temperature extremes and perhaps gain some health and psychological benefits.

You will never hear about something as simple, and low cost, as altering your breathing practices to enhance your health from the healthcare or media establishment. They are too intent on profiting from your poor health. Pharmaceuticals are prescribed like candy. Estimated global sales of statins alone are approaching $1 Trillion dollars globally! Imagine if simply practicing your breathing every day could improve several health markers. Add to that a healthy diet, regular high intensity exercise, daily movement, decent sleep and stress management, and you may well reduce or eliminate the need for expensive and potentially harmful medical interventions. I recommend reading these two books and making intentional breathing practices part of your lifestyle.

Posted September 11, 2020 by Tim Rankin