To your good health: the importance of breathing deeply

It might sound weird, but in today’s world, we often forget to breathe. Not just the type of breathing that we do automatically (and keeps us alive), but the deep, belly breaths that fill our lungs completely.

Plenty of common habits lead to shallow breathing, which can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. Using smartphones, computers, chronic “busy-ness,” having a sedentary lifestyle – all of that results in us not using our lungs to their full potential. Most of the time, we don’t even notice we’re breathing shallowly. The next time you spend more than a couple minutes looking at a smartphone, try to tune in to your breathing. Do you get really still, taking shallow, quiet breaths? It’s due a mixture of concentration and subconscious efforts to stabilize the tiny screen. With the amount of time per day that we all use these devices, that can lead to a lot of time each day breathing shallowly, and in turn can make us feel more anxious and less grounded.

Breathing deeply has measurable positive impacts on our physiology. When we fully inhale and fully exhale, it increases something called heart rate variability. Heart rate variability is essentially a measure of how responsive your heart is to physiological changes, and the more responsive the heart is to those changes, the healthier it is. A person’s heart rate naturally increases with inhalation, and naturally decreases with exhalation. The more often we take big, deep breaths, the better our hearts get at changing rates and reacting appropriately to our environment. If our hearts are responsive to these small changes, that means the heart can adapt to the larger physiologic changes that happen during exercise and stressful situations, which is very important for long-term cardiovascular health.

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Another way that deep breathing can positively impact our physiology is to activate something called the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of our nervous system is responsible for the functions of “resting and digesting,” and helps us feel relaxed, helps us properly extract nutrients from the food we eat, and generally helps us feel calm.

Next time you feel stressed or anxious, take a minute to tune into your breathing. Are you breathing shallowly? If so, try taking a few deep breaths and see if it helps you feel a little better.

Give it a try:

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Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit for 5 minutes
Close your eyes
Inhale slowly through your nose, counting to four on the inhale
Hold your breath for 1-2 seconds at the top of the inhale
Exhale slowly through your mouth, counting to four on the exhale
Repeat 10-20 times
Observe how you feel – hopefully you feel more relaxed than when you started!

If you struggle with anxiety or stress, schedule an appointment today to learn about more natural therapies that can help you feel better.

Avatar photo Dr. Lorraine & Dr. Katy (30 Posts)

Drs. Katy and Lorraine have been colleagues and close friends since 2013. More recently, they collaborated on a series of blog posts to get the word out about the most powerful ways to get and stay healthy. Dr. Katy practices in mid-coast Maine and Dr. Lorraine practices in eastern Oregon.

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