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Breathe properly and rest easy

Breathing is so second nature that few of us stop to think about the effects it can have on our health.

Learning to breathe properly can have a profound influence on our state of mind, relieving stress and promoting a feeling of well-being. Other benefits include better circulation, lower blood pressure and increased energy.

The vast majority of people are shallow breathers, using only a fraction of their lung capacity. They barely take in enough oxygen to expand the ribcage and, without being aware, they may also periodically hold their breath, breathe unevenly or over-breathe when exercising. The result can lead to fatigue, headaches, dizziness, fuzzy thinking and in extreme cases, fainting.

Deep abdominal breathing on the other hand, uses the diaphragm, a large sheetlike muscle located at the bottom of the chest cavity, allowing more air into the lowest and largest part of the lungs. Breathing more slowly and deeply can actually increase exercise capacity. One way to practice deep breathing is to slowly and fully inhale through the nose, pause for a few seconds,and exhale fully through the mouth. The abdominal area should rise and fall as you breathe.

Environmental factors can make breathing difficult. Studies have shown that exercising under smoggy conditions can decrease lung capacity by as much as 20 percent. Exercising in colder air and/or low humidity can also worsen breathing-related symptoms. Do your best to monitor air pollution levels if you plan to exercise outdoors, and avoid high-pollution areas altogether.

Have you ever experienced headaches when exercising? Exertional headache may arise as a result of straining or holding ones breath when exercising, especially if lifting heavier weights. Typically with this type of headache, the acute onset of severe throbbing pain, lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes, is followed by a dull ache lasting anywhere from four to six hours. Thereafter, the headache seems to recur with exertion. Most exertional headaches are benign, but to rule out medical causes, it is a good idea to check with your doctor.

Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) is a narrowing of the airways that causes breathing difficulties. It is theorized that EIA is due to the cooling and dehydration of the lungs that occurs during activity as more rapid breathing takes place.

Sudden sharp, intense pain under the lower edge of the ribcage is known as a “side stitch.” Such pain is caused by a muscle spasm of the diaphragm and usually happens during rigorous exercise, such as long distance running. This condition occurs more frequently in novice exercisers and people who are shallow breathers, although even seasoned athletes may experience stitches at some point.

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