To mark Lung Health Awareness month in November, here are a five essential tips to get the most out of your lungs and boost your energy now.
1. Coordinate breathing with movement when exercising. Breathing out on exertion (e.g. as you push or pull or lift) will help. While holding your breath during exertion can stabilise core muscles and may be utilised by those more advanced in exercise, it can also compromise the overall breathing pattern and oxygen intake and means that, on completion of the activity during which they’ve been holding their breath, there will be a need to expel the air from the lungs before being able to take in the next breath.
2. Empty lungs as fully as possible prior to breathing in. As breathing quickens it can become shallower and people will only partially use their full lung capacity. The lower ribs and diaphragm therefore aren’t properly involved in the breathing mechanics, compromising the amount of air being taken in. Less “fresh” air, combined with residual “used” air, results in less oxygen coming into the lungs which drives the body to pump more blood and breathe quicker…beginning a vicious cycle.
3. The diaphragm moves downwards when you breathe in and upwards when you breathe out. The ribs expand as you breathe in and return to normal as you breathe out. Breathing should therefore be coordinated with your body movements to help facilitate these actions e.g. if bending forward you benefit from breathing out as the body’s positioning will compromise the diaphragm’s ability to move downwards whilst in this position. Similarly you benefit from breathing out as arms reach overhead because this elevation of your shoulder girdle can compromise your ability to utilise the diaphragm/rib movement making breathing in difficult.
4. The rule of thumb is to breathe out with exertion. If this is coordinated with abdominal stabilisation (contraction of abdominal muscles with breathe out) it will provide more power through to your limbs. e.g. tennis players forcefully breathe out as they hit the ball. When performing a continuous action (e.g. running, swimming, cycling) breathing patterns should be utilising the “bucket handle” rib cage movement of the diaphragm to ensure maximal breath in and then using pursed lip breathing when exhaling to help enhance emptying of the lungs. The breath out should be slightly longer than the breath in.
5. Focusing on utilising the lower rib cage and diaphragm as you breathe Coordinating breathing with movements and generally avoiding breath-holding. Pilates and yoga are both good strategies to improve focus on your breathing as we all have a tendency to develop breathing habits that may inadvertently be impacting on breathing efficiency. Improving focus on the breath has also been demonstrated as a successful mindfulness strategy to provide temporary relief of stress and anxiety, reducing physiological and psychological arousal.
Sports stars secrets:
Casey Dellacqua, world-ranked tennis player
“As a tennis player in my sport, we have 20 seconds in between points and I used that 20 seconds to control my breathing to prepare for the next point so that I am settled, relaxed and focussed.”
Melissa Breen, the nation’s fastest female sprinter
“My best breathing tip for training is to slow everything down, even though I’m a sprinter and like doing everything fast! I need to control my breathing after an all out sprint effort, to aid in recovery. I’ve found allowing myself to concentrate on slowing everything down, including my walk recovery, releasing tension throughout my body and focus on long deep breaths brings me back to normal.”
Jess Fox, gold-winning canoe slalom athlete
“Before racing it’s easy to get wound up and nervous, and breathing properly really helps me to relax, get in the zone before a race, and do my visualisation before a race. In just one breath, I would get myself focused and ready to make it down a big drop on a river. Look at exercise as a holistic lifestyle choice, seen as an opportunity to have fun, catch up with friends, or to get from A to B rather than it being an inconvenience.”
The Carousel thanks The Lung Foundation for these tips