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Take a Deep Breath for Longevity

December 4, 2020

Written by Heather Callahan, Associate Director of Fitness & Programming

Take a moment and set a timer for one minute. Make a tally of how many breaths you take during that minute. Try not to change or think too much about the span of the breath, try to breathe as comfortably as possible.

It is likely that you took about 12-20 breaths during that minute – which is the average for a human being. Now let’s look at a tortoise – they take an average of four breaths per minute. Comparing life spans, tortoises live an average of 98 years longer than human beings.

So, does breathing have something to do with longevity? Health research concludes this as a yes – good breathing practices are positively correlated to decreased mortality risk. Here’s why.

Breathwork Induces Stress Resilience

What is stress resilience? This is your body’s natural reaction to stressors in your environment. Having a good resilience to stress is a very good thing. Breathing practices bring you quickly to the present moment, which helps to reduce stress, symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.

There are two important components of your autonomic nervous system:

Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) – “Fight or Flight”

Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) – “Rest and Digest”

If you are familiar with these terms, you may have heard that good breathing practices help stimulate the PSNS, which is good for all your normal bodily functions.

When you have stress resilience from a good breathwork practice, you achieve sympathovagal balance, enhancing your body’s reactivity to all environmental (physical and mental) stressors, so you can more appropriately activate your SNS and PSNS nervous systems. It’s all about balance.

Easy Breathwork Practices to Start

The current global landscape is stress and anxiety-inducing already. Wearing a mask for prolonged periods of time may limit the depth of breath you can take and the amount of oxygen taken in during that breath, which will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the heart rate.

Because wearing a mask is currently something we are required to do, whether during work or grocery shopping, or in enclosed spaces, it is important to have good breathing habits whenever you are not wearing it to maintain good health.

Important note: breathwork practices should never cause stress and anxiety, so if you are experiencing that during any breathwork, come back to a comfortable, steady breath. It can be a good habit to take a few normal breaths between rounds of your breath practices.

Breathing Exercises to Try

Deep Abdominal Breath

This breath can be done anytime you need to slow down and relax. When we take a deep abdominal breath, it encourages the use of our diaphragm (primary muscle of relaxed breathing).

How to do it:

You can lay on your back or sit tall in your chair with your eyes open or closed, softly. Relax your jaw and tongue away from the roof of the mouth. Take an inhale and let the belly expand outwards, sending your breath down. On your exhale through your nose, slowly draw the belly button towards your spine. Elongate the breath to your comfort level. Repeat for 1-2 minutes.

4-7-8 Breath

 This technique can be done to alleviate stress and anxiety, and learning how to breath more slowly with control. Only practice this if you feel comfortable holding your inhale for 7 seconds.

How to do it:

Lay down or sit tall in your chair with your eyes closed or open, softly. Relax your jaw and tongue away from the roof of the mouth. Inhale for 4 seconds (counts), holding the breath in for 7 counts. Slowly exhale for 8 counts out of your mouth. Repeat for 1-2 minutes, longer if desired.