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Take a deep breath – how loving your lungs can make you feel better

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Inspired by the British Lung Foundation’s national Love Your Lungs week this month, we’ve been thinking about how the health of our lungs and the way we breathe can make a huge difference to how we feel.

As a set of equipment, our lungs are impressive. The most obvious function is being responsible for our breathing and keeping us alive. Essentially, our lungs take oxygen from the surrounding environment and transfer it to the bloodstream so that our bodies can perform all the tasks they need to. 

Did you know?

  • We take between 6-8 million breaths every year 
  • The left and the right lungs are different sizes and slightly different in shape
  • The right lung is shorter to make way for the liver which sits below it

Waiting to exhale

On average, we each take between 23,000 - 25,000 breaths each day and yet many of us don’t give it a second thought.  If you were asked how many breaths you consciously noticed during the day (or even in the last hour) could you recall them? Nope, us neither! That’s because we all function in ‘autopilot’ when it comes to breathing.

It’s easy to take our lungs for granted and yet, in times of stress, anxiety, when we’re feeling overwhelmed by emotions, or when we’re concentrating on something, we often hold our breath. This can affect our speech as the airflow isn’t great enough to fully power it.

It may surprise you to learn that many of us are ‘shallow breathers.’ This means that we inhale quickly, taking several short, successional breaths, drawing air into the chest using the muscles between our ribs rather than the muscle at the base of our chests that allows us to more fully inflate the whole of our lungs. Another poor habit includes holding our breath after inhalation. These habits aren’t harmful to our health, but they do mean that you’re not using your lungs as efficiently as you could be and not expanding them to their full capacity. 

Using your breath to boost wellbeing

The terms health and wellbeing are hot topics these days and many of us are familiar with the terms ‘mindful breath’ or ‘controlled breath’. But what does it actually mean when it comes to our day-to-day lives?  Within the mainstream health and the yoga communities, it’s no secret that slow, deep breaths can calm the nervous system, reduce heartrate and quieten the mind. There are simple relaxation techniques available that involve controlled breathing to reduce stress. To find these, simply search for them online.

Adopting a ‘mindful’ approach to your breathing, allows you to create the space to reduce stress and anxiety, temper your emotions and even sharpen your concentration. Controlling your breathing in a mindful, purposeful way naturally occurs when you practice yoga, sing or even when you talk.

‘Aerobic’ exercise (which is anything that elevates the heart rate) also improves lung capacity and overall good health so with a little more walking, hiking and swimming, you could see a positive difference in your physical and mental health.

Here’s a downloadable pdf of this article,’ Take a deep breath’.