Sedentary lifestyle, high stress levels, poor diet of processed food that requires little chewing – just some of the many lifestyle factors that, over decades, have changed the way we breathe. Besides, as we get older, we start to breathe faster, less deeply, less efficiently and more into our upper chest.
But thankfully, just like aerobic exercises strengthen your muscles and improve your heart function, breathing exercises can make your lungs more efficient. By practicing breathing exercises it is possible to maintain a deeper breath and slow the aging processes.
Read our first chapter: Breathe slower, live longer!
Table of Contents
Overbreathing and hypoxia
Hypoxia means that cells are unable to get the oxygen they need to survive.
With aging comes shallow breathing and also a form of chronic tissue hypoxia that has been linked to a variety of age-related health concerns. Chronic cellular hypoxia is ultimately linked to cell death and the opportunistic proliferation of mutagenic stem cells.
Shallow breathing also forces the body to breath faster which leads to overbreathing oxygen and breathing out too much CO2 creating a dangerous imbalance in O2 and CO2. In this case, O2 stays bound in the blood without being efficiently released into your cells. The cells ages, become hypoxic, and ultimately fail.
Overbreathing is a breathing pattern disorder, caused by the chronic tendency to shallow breathe in the upper chest, rather than using all five lobes of the lungs. While overbreathing affects most of us, 10% of adults are also affected in its extrem form, called hyperventilation, which is linked to severe anxiety, panic, and phobias.
Breath holding exercises allow CO2 levels to build up and restore the proper ratio between O2 and CO2. As CO2 levels rise, O2 is delivered to your cells, reversing states of hypoxia.
Short-Term Hypoxia Boosts AMPK and Longevity
While chronic cellular hypoxia contributes to aging, a lack of cellular oxygen in small doses can actually trigger a well-documented rejuvenating effect called intermittent hypoxia.
During short bouts of hypoxia, the body expresses certain genes that increase oxygen delivery to cell mitochondria and amp up the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), or cellular energy. This process is driven by hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs).
Longevity research has linked states of intermittent hypoxia to increased production of the longevity enzyme AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase). Living a long and healthy life requires maintaining an optimal level of AMPK, which commonly declines with age, but, can be reversed with breathing exercises
Nasal breathing vs mouth breathing
Breathing through the nose is more beneficial than breathing through the mouth. Nose breathing filters, heats, and humidifies air as it enters the body and is 22% more efficient than mouth breathing. During nasal breathing, your nose releases nitric oxide (NO). NO is a vasodilator, which means it helps to widen blood vessels. This can help improve oxygen circulation in your body.
The mouth is simply not designed for breathing, it is for eating and talking. Chronic mouth breathing can lead to health effects, such as tooth decay or gum disease, teeth disfigurement, difficult swallowing or even changes in the mouth or jaw shape.
Additionally, mouth breathing does not humidify or clean the air like nose breathing and mostly engages the upper chest, leaving the lower lobes (with the majority of blood for O2 and CO2 exchange) of the lungs with limited access. Thus, if you are a mouth breather, it is beneficial to practice nasal breathing.
Breathing Exercises To Try
Breathing exercises may help improve your nose breathing, enhance your lung function, increase respiratory muscle strength, and relieve stress and anxiety. The best way to get started is to begin doing it. Here are a few easy excercises you can try right now.
Box breathing (also called as four-square breathing)
Box breathing is one of the simplest breathwork techniques and can be done almost anywhere — even at a busy coworking space to slow down your breath and clear your mind. Simply follow these steps:
- Exhale all of the air in your lungs.
- Inhale for four counts.
- Hold your breath for another four counts.
- Exhale for four counts.
- Repeat three to four times
The 4-7-8 breath
For instant stress relie, sit in an upright position and place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose to a count of four.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound for eight counts.
Repeat steps one to three at least four times.
Alternate nostril breathing
This technique may help to relax your body and mind and instantly reduce anxiety. To practice, sit in a comfortable position and follow these easy steps:
- Lift right hand up toward nose.
- Exhale completely and then use right thumb to close right nostril.
- Inhale through left nostril and then close left nostril with your fingers.
- Open right nostril and exhale through this side.
Beginner breath holds
Sit Comfortably. Take a slow 5-6 second count inhalation through your nose, followed by a 5-6 second count exhalation.
After a few long slow comfortable breathing at a rate of about 6 breaths per minute, gently pause the breath after each exhalation for 2-6 seconds. Feel free to adjust your breath hold on comfort, without any feeling of strain.
Practice for 10 minutes twice daily, allowing your inhalations, exhalations, and holds to lengthen over time.
The ocean sounding breath
- Sit in an upright position and inhale through your nose.
- As you slowly exhale, contract your throat and make a gentle “haaaa” sound, just like the ocean. If you’re a beginner, make the sound while exhaling with your mouth open imagining you want to fog up a window. Try to sound just like Darth Vader from Star Wars.
- Repeat until you feel relaxed (and cheered up)!
We all breathe all the time. The way that we breathe is what makes the only difference, but it makes a big one. Research shows a variety of health and wellness benefits and quality of life improvements related to intentional breathing. Whether you start or end your day with breathing exercises for stress relief or use these techniques to refresh yourself during the day, you will feel the beneficial effects right away.
- Hypoxia and aging
- Effect of Fast and Slow Pranayama Practice on Cognitive Functions In Healthy Volunteers
- Morning breathing exercises prolong lifespan by improving hyperventilation in people living with respiratory cancer
- Exponential analysis of elastic recoil and aging in healthy males and females
- Physiology, Bohr Effect
- Autophagy and aging: Maintaining the proteome through exercise and caloric restriction
- Are You an Overbreather? Balance CO2 + O2 for Mood Support
- AMPK: guardian of metabolism and mitochondrial homeostasis
- Adenosine nucleotide biosynthesis and AMPK regulate adult life span and mediate the longevity benefit of caloric restriction in flies
- Targeting the AMP-Activated Protein Kinase for Cancer Prevention and Therapy
- Insulin resistance due to nutrient excess
- Calorie restriction: is AMPK as a key sensor and effector?