Aging Successfully: Better breathing for better health

According to every story I have heard about it, the female practice of holding our stomachs in and breathing from our lungs dates back to the Victorian era, if not prior. This is one more example of society making beauty trends more important than healthy habits.

There are other, modern-day causes of poor breathing habits such as sitting in front of a TV or a computer screen for too many hours.

Most of us are guilty of shallow breathing or of breathing from our lungs, not our diaphragm. These bad habits are more harmful than most of us are aware of. I myself was clueless until a friend, who is a retired nurse, educated me.

Aerobic exercises are an excellent way to help a person breathe more deeply. However, not everyone has the stamina for aerobics, especially our more mature citizens.

The diaphragm is the body’s main breathing muscle, and it is one muscle we cannot live without. The correct term for deep breathing from the diaphragm and abdomen is diaphragmatic breathing — and, if you recall, it is easy to do.

In case you are not recalling, here is a brief reminder of how to do diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in slowly through the nose from the diaphragm while allowing the abdomen to extend out. Then slowly exhale while gently pulling the abdomen back in.

Some experts say to exhale through the mouth and others say to exhale through the nose. Personally, I prefer to exhale through my mouth.

An article on the website for Michigan Medicine (University of Michigan) says the way we breathe affects our entire body.

The health benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing are countless. Here is a short list of some basic benefits.

1. Deep breathing strengthens the diaphragm muscle and improves lung function

2. The more oxygen inhaled the more the body relaxes, reducing stress and anxiety

3. Deep breathing allows more oxygen to reach inflamed joints, reducing inflammation

4. Oxygen oxidizes fats and toxins creating carbon dioxide which is expelled when exhaling

5. Research shows that deep breathing can reduce pain levels

6. Diaphragmatic breathing can lower high blood pressure

7. More oxygen to the muscles means more energy

8. Deep breathing can improve heart function

9. Diaphragmatic breathing has proven to improve the quality of life in persons with cancer

10. More oxygen reaching the brain has multiple benefits including improved concentration and elevated moods

It is easier for me to make diaphragmatic breathing a part of my daily activities rather than trying to make a special time just for proper breathing. Examples are when I sit in front of the computer, stand in line, or wait for a traffic light to turn green.

Here are important considerations. If you develop a headache, become light-headed, or begin to yawn compulsively while doing diaphragmatic breathing, please stop. All of these symptoms mean there is an imbalance in the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange levels.

As always, talk with your primary care provider and do you own research. The library has how-to materials on correct breathing. Shipley Center and the YMCA may have non-stress aerobic exercises, or other exercises which can help a person to breathe deeper.

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Crystal Linn is a multi-published author and an award winning poet. Since moving to northeast Olympic Peninsula in 2015 she has been actively involved in creating new opportunities for local authors. She looks forward to connecting with even more writers, and readers living in this area. When not writing, or teaching workshops, Crystal enjoys reading a good mystery, hiking, and sailing with friends and family.