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Simple Breathing Exercises for Improved Health

Health enthusiasts are all too aware of the importance of choosing nutrient-rich foods for fuel. There's no denying that we need a wide variety of nutrients from healthy food to create energy to fuel our daily activities.

It's worth remembering that nutrients on their own do not create energy.

At a cellular level, our organelles create energy by combining nutrients with oxygen.

The formula, as we were taught in grade seven science class, goes like this:

Glucose + Oxygen = ATP (Energy) + Carbon dioxide

This fundamental, life-sustaining equation highlights the vital role that our lungs play in keeping us well.

It's at the very finest branches of tissue that line the base of our lungs where we accept oxygen from our environment and expel carbon dioxide.

In order for us to maintain our health and recover from any type of illness, we need a steady supply of oxygen entering our blood. We also need to continuously push carbon dioxide out of our circulation, as carbon dioxide competes with oxygen to be carried by hemoglobin throughout the circulatory system.

So what must we do to ensure optimal gas exchange within our lungs?

First, we need to be around fresh air. This means being outdoors often, and when we're indoors for long stretches at a time, we should crack open a couple of windows whenever possible. Or at the very least, ensure that the ventilation system that controls the air quality in our work and living spaces is functioning properly - this includes making sure that furnace filters are replaced regularly.

It also means that while we sleep, when the weather permits, we should crack open a window so that our lungs are exposed to a steady stream of fresh oxygen, and that the air in our sleeping area doesn't get dominated by carbon dioxide.

Second, we need to be mindful of how well we're breathing. Respiratory rate - the number of cycles of inhalation and exhalation we experience per minute, is affected by a few different factors.

Emotional stress tends to promote shallow breathing. So being mindful of our emotional state and making a habit of taking purposeful, deep breaths in and out as often as possible make for a sensible strategy to ensure optimal intake of oxygen and elimination of carbon dioxide.

An oft overlooked determinant of respiratory rate is how healthy the spinal column and surrounding joints are. Together, the spine, ribcage, and sternum (breast bone) form a protective case that surrounds the heart and lungs. At every point of contact between our ribs and spine and breast bone, there is some joint play - that is, built-in room to move, not a lot, but enough to allow for optimal expansion of our lungs as we breathe in.

Also, from rib to rib, we have cartilage that helps keep our ribs in place, but that also provides just enough give to allow our ribs to slightly expand and contract as we breathe.

Over time, chronic stress, lack of exercise, and lack of mindful breathing can cause all of these moving parts to become somewhat brittle and unable to provide the joint play that is essential to helping us breathe optimally.

This is one of the reasons why regular mobility work for our spine, ribcage, and surrounding tissues is important to our health. By keeping all of our major joints moving properly, we ensure that we have the physical capacity to fill our lungs with ample amounts of oxygen throughout the day and night.

If you're not sure where to start with mobility work, I would suggest you have a look at the following resource:

Mobility Exercise Progressions Overview

Or visit our YouTube channel and browse through our videos and try those that feel doable for your current health status:

Beyond working on your mobility, you can adopt a regular practice of breathing exercises. What follows are some suggested breathing exercises that lead to improved lung function, greater oxygenation of your blood and tissues, better clearance of carbon dioxide from your system, and a healthy balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system output, which is needed to normalize stress-related endocrine issues and hypertension.

With all breathing exercises, strive to inhale through your nostrils. You can exhale through your nostrils or mouth. Also, whenever possible, strive to engage your abdominal muscles as you inhale and exhale, which will maximize diaphragmatic activity and optimize oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange between your alveoli and the capillaries that line them.

  1. Inhale for about two seconds, then exhale for as long as you comfortably can through your mouth as though you are steadily blowing out a bunch of candles. Repeat for five cycles.

  2. Inhale for five seconds, hold your breath for 20 seconds, then exhale for ten seconds. Repeat for five cycles.

  3. Inhale slowly as long as you comfortably can, then exhale slowly as long as you comfortably can. Repeat for five cycles.

  4. Inhale slowly as long as you comfortably can, counting how many seconds this span is, then when you stop inhaling, hold your breath for the same number of seconds, then exhale as long as you comfortably can. Repeat for five cycles.

You can give all of these breathing exercises a try and adopt whichever ones feel most helpful to you. Once a week or even daily, I would suggest recording how long you can comfortably inhale and how long you can comfortably exhale - over time, as you work at breathing exercises, you should see a gradual increase in these times, which are markers for lung health and your capacity to oxygenate your blood and cells.


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There is an old joke line about a person who cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. I have Parkinson's and one of the efects is that I am finding it hard to talk (or walk, or anything) and breath at the same tme. As I read your aticle "How well are you breathing" I became more aware of my own very shallow breathing. With no little effort, I began to force myself to breath deeply. Wonders of wonders, little shooting pains in the muscles on either side of my back, disapeared, and I began to feel very refreshed. My posture improved which, in-its-self, was a marvel. It is to bad, because of the PD, that there are very few things I do naturally. I need to be constantly reminded. So, above ny desk, there will be a sign with one foot high and very bold letters saying to me, "Breath". Thank you for your good work.

Easi - I was excited to read what you had posted. Dr. Kim rocks! Another thing that might be helpful for you is to work with a massage therapist in your area. You can look in your Yellow Pages or go to to find a therapist. I have worked with clients with Parkinson's over the years and it has always helped! So check this out if it seems like something you might want to do. Blessings

Hi Easi, A few years ago I learned the Buteyko method of breathing and it is the opposite of what we have been taught. If you look it up on the internet, make sure you are researching an expert (and not some person who participated in the course).