by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
I think most of us know how important it is to exercise regularly. Recent scientific studies show that you can’t live a healthy, long life without it. Daily exercise fights aging, regulates blood sugar and reverses weight gain. It relieves depression, wards off Alzheimer’s, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and is a powerful antidote to fatigue and heart disease.
But guess what part of my recommended guidelines is the single hardest thing for my patients to stick to? You got it—regular exercise. Despite their best intentions, most of my patients allow exercise to fall by the wayside when life gets busy or stressful (just the time when it’s most important!) But there is a way to begin or renew your commitment to physical fitness, something that should come easily to every woman because you have to do it anyway.
Breathe…deeply and often.
Proper breathing fully oxygenates your cells, helping them function at an optimal level. We can’t survive more than a few moments without breath, yet we consistently overlook this most-important body function when we think about our well-being. As a bridge to exercise, breathing will jump-start or enhance many of its health benefits.
So let’s discuss why and how you should learn to breathe for your health.
Breathing for health
At Women to Women, many patients come through our doors knowing that diet and exercise is the cornerstone of good health. They want to “be better” about going to the gym but just can’t seem to stay with the physical piece for more than a couple of months. Most of my patients find it much easier to change their diet than their activity levels because they have to find time to eat—not so with exercise.
What’s surprising is that when I run the regular panel of tests on my patients, a majority of women show irregularly high levels of carbon dioxide in their blood. It’s consistently the most abnormal reading I see, including readings from standard glucose, kidney and liver tests.
While this isn’t life threatening, it does tell me that my patient isn’t inhaling enough oxygen or getting rid of enough carbon dioxide, which can have its own consequences like fatigue, mental fog and decreased tissue function. I often have to prescribe “needs to breathe” on a patient’s chart. Not the shallow chest breathing many of us default into, but deep, meaningful breaths or “belly breathing.”
Your cells must have oxygen to survive moment to moment. To thrive, they rely on a complex exchange between the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. Blood flow carries nutrients and ample amounts of oxygen into the capillaries, while a healthy lymphatic system carries away destructive toxins. Proper breathing is the master of this exchange.
One of the reasons aerobic exercise is good for you (and is so good at clearing away mental cobwebs) is that it ups your heart rate and forces your lungs to take in more oxygen while expelling more carbon dioxide. This gives your heart a good workout (it is a muscle after all) and pumps a quick jolt of oxygen through your cells, even those that may have been operating at reduced capacity.