On an average, a human being can survive three weeks without food, but can’t last more than three minutes without breathing.
Quite evidently, the air that we breathe gains priority over the food that we need to survive. Moreover, food cannot be utilised by the body when there is no oxygen to break it down.
Hence, this week, I decided to write about this vital parameter.
It is indeed surprising to see that breathing habits are commonly neglected in our routine health checks. The way we breathe strongly influences our heart health, digestion and stress levels, yet we don’t think it an important parameter when assessing our health. The molecules that we breathe (30 lbs per day) are far more in number than the molecules of food or drink that we consume during the course of the day. Surely, it’s time for the mainstream medical discourse to pay attention to breathing habits.
The manner in which we breathe is something like a double-edged sword. It has the potential to work like medicine, but it can also become the cause of bane. How we breathe is just as important as how we eat, if not more.
The principle to improve the way we breathe is simple--try to make each breath longer and deeper. When we take in more air into our lungs, the frequency of breaths goes down. This can reduce the wear and tear of the lungs. Practice this by gently breathing through the nose to the count of five, and then breathe out again slowly (to the count of seven). Breathing slower and deeper impacts almost all our organs beneficially. It boosts blood supply to the brain, reduces the strain on the heart, and also brings down blood pressure by several notches (10-15 points). It is also known to alleviate anxiety, depressive symptoms and other mental health concerns. Adjusting your breath could also be helpful in reducing (and reversing) the effects of allergies and asthma.
I would like to make a point about breathing through the mouth, which is detrimental for health. It predisposes you to respiratory infections, saps the body of moisture and loosens the soft tissue at the back of the mouth. Correction to nasal breathing decreases snoring, sleep apnea, hypertension, and can improve cognitive functioning. Nasal breathing can also increase the body’s oxygen absorption by as much as 18 per cent.
Improving lung capacity is of great value. The renowned Framingham Heart Study, which was primarily conducted to study heart health, revealed that it is lung capacity (and not genetics, diet or exercise) that determines your overall well-being. Breathing right is critical at all times, but more so during this pandemic. It is no surprise that the practice of yoga, which greatly emphasises breath control, is highly recommended for immunity and good health.