Scientific research, as well as the experience of thousands of people has shown the vital importance of learning how to breathe correctly. The problem is that correct breathing, which should be everyone’s birthright, has become extremely challenging in our modern society. We assume that the body reflexively knows how much air it needs at all times, but unfortunately this is not the case. Over the centuries we have altered our environment so dramatically that many of us have forgotten our innate way of breathing. The process of breathing has been warped by chronic stress, sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy diets, overheated homes, and lack of fitness. All of these contribute to poor breathing habits. These in turn contribute to lethargy, weight gain, sleeping problems, respiratory conditions, and heart disease.
Our ancestors lived on a natural diet in a far less competitive environment and physically worked hard, a lifestyle conducive to maintaining an efficient breathing pattern. Compare that to modern-day living, in which we spend hours slouched at a desk on computers and talking on phones, surviving on a rushed lunch of convenience food, trying to manage a seemingly never ending series of tasks and financial obligations.
Modern living gradually increases the amount of air we breathe, and while getting more oxygen into our lungs might seem like a good idea, it is in fact light breathing that is a testament to good health and fitness. Think of an overweight tourist and an Olympian both arriving for the Summer Games. As they picked up their luggage and carried it up a flight of stairs, whom would you expect to be huffing and puffing? Certainly not the Olympian.
The biggest obstacle to your health and fitness is a rarely identified problem: chronic overbreathing. We can breathe two to three times more air than required without knowing it.
Determine if you are overbreathing
See how many of these questions you answer “yes” to:
• Do you sometimes breathe through your mouth as you go about your daily activities?
• Do you breathe through your mouth during deep sleep? (If you are not sure, do you wake up with a dry mouth in the morning?)
• Do you snore or hold your breath during sleep?
• Can you visibly notice your breathing during rest? To find out, take a look at your breathing right now. Spend a minute observing the movements of your chest or abdomen as you take each breath. The more movement you see, the heavier you breathe.
• When you observe your breathing, do you see more movements from the chest than from the abdomen?
• Do you regularly sigh throughout the day? (While one sigh every now and again is not an issue, regular sighing is enough to maintain chronic overbreathing.)
• Do you sometimes hear your breathing during rest?
• Do you experience symptoms resulting from habitual overbreathing, such as nasal congestion, tightening of the airways, fatigue, dizziness, or light-headedness?
Answering yes to some or all of the questions above suggests a tendency to overbreathe. These traits are typical of what happens when the amount of air we breathe is greater than what we need. Just as we have an optimal quantity of water and food to consume each day, we also have an optimal quantity of air to breathe. And just as eating too much can be damaging to our health, so can overbreathing.
The unconscious habit of overbreathing has hit epidemic proportions all across the industrialized world, and it’s highly detrimental to our health. Chronic overbreathing leads to loss of health, poor fitness, and compromised performance and also contributes to many ailments including anxiety, asthma, fatigue, insomnia, heart problems, and even obesity. It may seem strange that such a disparate range of complaints can be caused by or worsened by overbreathing, but the breath of life influences literally every aspect of our health.
It is how you breathe during your daily life that determines how you breathe during physical exercise.
Poor breathing habits can be the difference between a healthy and vibrant life and an ill and feeble one. Overbreathing causes the narrowing of airways, limiting your body’s ability to oxygenate, and the constriction of blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow to the heart and other organs and muscles.
These systemic impacts affect your health profoundly, whether you’re a professional athlete or your main exercise is walking up the stairs of your house.
Great sports careers can plateau or even be cut short by an athlete’s overbreathing. The lungs let the individual down, and—no matter how strong the rest of the body is—unnecessary, excess breaths take their toll. As most athletes know, our lungs give out long before our arms and legs.