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WHAT DOES HEALTHY BREATHING LOOK LIKE? SHOULD I BREATHE A CERTAIN WAY?

 Excellent breathing is not a function of breathing a certain way at all times or being mindful about breathing at all times.  Fortunately, we have a reflex that does this work for us.  In many cases, this reflex needs “retraining”.If RF is sub-par and the breathing habit quite dysfunctional, professional help is recommended. Those with excellent respiratory fitness and CO2 adaptation have exceptional internal chemistry and physiology because of their training and lifestyle. There are ways to improve RF without heavy time or energy commitments. With practice, breathing well becomes second nature and internal chemistry is normalized as RF increases.  Life should improve as breathing-related symptoms dissipate and awareness climbs. Let’s look at what healthy breathing looks like under different conditions once a person develops excellent physiology and RF.

  1. What does healthy breathing look like while sitting at work, watching a show or just hanging out under an umbrella at the beach?
  • Mouth is closed; breathing is strictly through the nose. It’s usually relatively rhythmic, slow and barely perceptible. How deep? How slow? Pace and depth depend on the level of RF, CO2 adaptation, arousal and metabolic needs. If a strenuous work-out or large meal was recently undertaken, then metabolic processes or digestion require extra breathing to offset pH changes in the body. Assuming it is early in the morning before eating and exercising, those with excellent physiology (high CO2 adaptation) and low arousal levels might naturally breathe as few as 4-7 breaths/min. A decent breather might be in the realm of 8 to 12 br/minute, but again, this depends on RF fitness, depth of breath, arousal level and metabolic needs. Some people naturally breathe deeper than others.  There is not a right or wrong as long as ideal internal chemistry is maintained.
  • An exhale and end pause that is considerably longer than the inhale (driving more parasympathetic and lowering heart rate). CO2 adaptation allows for a long breath before baroreceptors signal the brain to go for the next breath. (See CO2 and HRV on Capnotrainer screen below)
  • No signs of gasping, wheezing, aborting the exhale, sighs or yawning spells.
  • No movement in the chest or trapezius muscles. Nearly 100% of breathing is done from the diaphragm. If metabolic needs are low (i.e. before breakfast), the tummy won’t be moving much, as there will be less need for oxygen for cellular respiration/ATP production.  One can feel a slight swell throughout the midline – the abdomen as well as just above the lumbar region (lower back) as the diaphragm expands into this space during correct breathing.  The abdomen expansion may be a bit more noticeable to an onlooker.

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  • CO2 is excellent at 40mmHg while HR averages 59 beats/min; HRV based on time domain is at an average 19.2 beats/min = avg differential between highest and lowest heart-rate over a 2-minute period. HRV is a key biomarker of cardiovascular fitness while CO2 is a key biomarker of respiratory fitness.
  1. What does healthy breathing look like when sleeping?
  • Nose breathing all night long
  • No snoring or sleep apnea (where breathing stops for over 10 seconds) on a regular basis through the night
  • Breathing is quiet and rhythmic
  • Breathing naturally occurs through diaphragm
  • Respiration rate in the 10 to 15 breaths/minute range.   Depending on RF, CO2 adaptation, sleep stage and a few other factors (temp, altitude, metabolic needs). It is possible for individuals with excellent RF to breathe at a rate below 10 br/min.
  1. What does healthy breathing look like during performance or exercise?
  • Those with excellent RF levels still secure all the air they need when breathing through nose. Wind sprints, HIIT, cycling a 20% gradient – all taken care of with nose breathing.
  • Respiration rate and size of each breath will vary depending on the level of metabolic need, whether pH adjustment is necessary and RF.
  • Breathing mechanics remain predominantly via the diaphragm.
  • If you are limited athletically by your endurance and respiratory fitness– whether neophyte or Olympian – your breathing.coach can assist.