Filed under: Breathing
There’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to how to breathe when you’re running, but there are a couple points to consider. During light to moderate exercise, people tend to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Breathing through your nose helps minimize the number of allergens that get into your airway, warm the air before it gets to your lungs (which can be helpful in cold temperatures), and increase the concentration of oxygen in your blood. However, as exercise intensity increases, most people switch to breathing through the mouth because they can inhale more air per breath with less resistance.
Running experts suggest practicing diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”) rather than shallower chest breathing (where you raise your chest and shoulders when you inhale). In the former, your diaphragm (an important muscle in the breathing process) is pushed downward when you inhale, creating space in your chest cavity. You should feel your belly expand as you inhale. It promotes greater expansion of your rib cage and lungs, giving you a fuller, deeper breath. It takes a little practice to learn how to breathe like this while you’re running, but if you lie on your back and breathe, practice yoga, or even play a wind instrument, you’ll know what it feels and looks like.
Finally, remember not to slouch when you run. Lift your torso and chest and lean forward slightly. Form also can affect how you breathe.
In stressful situations, people often say, “Take a deep breath!” But perhaps they should be saying, “Take a long exhale!”
When your breathing is rhythmic, and your exhales are longer than your inhales, your heart rate will tend to follow: As you inhale, your heart rate increases, and as you exhale, your heart rate slows down. This more variable heart rate is associated with fewer physical and psychological problems over the long run, and lower stress and better situational awareness during the short-run. Better situational awareness means being aware of your changing environment, while also tuning into whatever is most important right here and right now. When you hold your breath or take short, shallow breaths, your heart rate varies less—which is a sign of stress. When you’re under stress, your attention can get stuck on a perceived threat. Instead, you need to allow your attention to shift from a broad focus (such as a landscape), to a narrow focus (such as the origin of a weapon firing), and back to a broad focus (such as the whole landscape, where there may be additional threats). Paced breathing can help you do this.
Optimal breathing rates vary slightly from person to person, but about six breaths per minute (with four-second inhales and six-second exhales) tends to be in the ballpark for most people to experience some benefits.
“Heart rate variability,” a way to track how your heart rate rhythmically goes up and down, helps you objectively assess your mind-body optimization. When your heart rate varies more, it’s good for your health and performance. Breathing at certain paces has a big impact on heart rate variability and—in turn—the mind-body connection and performance. And because you can learn to control your breathing, you can also improve your HRV. For more information about HRV and breathing to increase your HRV, read HPRC’s “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best.”
You may have heard how deep breathing can help you relax and focus, but have you tried it yet? It’s a great strategy for helping your mind and body relax, but maybe you don’t know how to do it. You can learn how—and keep reminders handy—with this downloadable card that HPRC created recently for the Strong B.A.N.D.S. campaign. Try it out.
Pain is a sensation of both the body and the mind—and it’s within your power to use strategies such as meditation to control the mental aspect to decrease the physical sensation of pain. Meditation can teach you to have a focused, calm mind, and rhythmic breathing. It may sound easy, but it requires practice. The payoffs can be improved well-being, reduced pain, and relaxation. Want to know more? Check out HPRC’s new Pain Management section, where you can find strategies such as meditation that you can use on your own or with the help of a healthcare provider.
Have you breathed deeply lately? Breathing’s not something we usually have to think about, so we tend to take it for granted. But our breath can be a powerful tool for relaxation and stress relief. Taking time every day to focus on deliberate breathing—that is, breathing deeply and with control—can allow your body’s relaxation response to kick in and help you de-stress.
Slow-paced and deep-breathing exercises have been widely studied for their relaxing effects on the body’s stress response system. There are several types of deep-breathing exercises you can perform, but one of the easiest and most common is just called “deep breathing” (or “diaphragmatic breathing”). HPRC has a video on Breathing Exercises for Optimized Performance that introduces three breathing strategies for human performance optimization: “Deep Breathing,” “Alternate Nostril Breathing,” and “Fast-Paced Breathing.” A longer version is available for you to practice along with the instructor, or you can download a Performance Strategies transcript that takes you through these breathing exercises step-by-step to achieve relaxation.
For more ideas on relaxation strategies, check out the Stress Control resources in HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.