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Will breathing affect my health?

The importance of breathing properly can’t be underestimated.  It is quite literally vital to sustain life – feeding necessary nutrients and oxygen to your trillions of cells.  This means that learning how to breathe properly is of the utmost importance if your goal is to be healthy.

Establish your pattern

Stop what you’re doing for a second and take a look down at your tummy and chest.  Now take a deep breathe in.  Does your chest simply move up and down, or does your tummy expand and fill with air before your chest start to move?

Most people tend to use their chest and neck muscles and breathe very shallowly.  The problem with incorrect breathing is that it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.

This branch of the nervous system deals with fight or flight and as such is your ‘stress’ system.  It also overworks the muscles in the neck and since these are actually secondary breathing muscles they are easily over-stimulated and become strained very quickly.

Use the diaphragm

Diaphragmatic breathing (the way we’re designed to breathe) will utilise the diaphragm – expanding first the belly and then (in the last third of the breath) the chest.

Since the diaphragm is the primary respiratory muscle, it doesn’t tire from this action and it’s use reduces the stress on the sympathetic system.  In fact, it is the perfect way to both manage stress and reduce it significantly.

Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose or mouth, in a deep, slow, rhythmic and relaxed way.  Be sure that your belly expands as you breathe in, allowing your diaphragm room to drop down and pull air into the bottom of your lungs.

Try and start with 5 minutes a day of diaphragmatic breathing and then – as often as possible, remind yourself to breathe in this way so that it eventually becomes a habit.

You’ll be amazed at the health benefits and of the sense of calmness that comes with regular, deep breathing.

Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

Tanya Wyatt

Tanya has written regularly for various health and fitness magazines such as Men’s Health, Marie-Claire, Cosmopolitan and Shape (she also served on the advisory board for Shape), as well as for local South Africa newspaper publications. In 2004, Tanya wrote two internationally released health and fitness-related books, both  published by New Holland. She recently wrote her third book, currently submitted to publishers for consideration.

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2021 Tanya Wyatt / The Happy Body