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Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Don’t blow off the amazing long-term mind-body benefits of deep breathing. Your heart, brain, lungs, immune system and mood all get a boost, and new research keeps finding additional bonuses.
All it takes to get more of the benefits? Five minutes a day of mindful inhalations and exhalations.
The latest news about breathing’s so-easy, so-powerful, do-anywhere health perks comes from the Cleveland Clinic, where Dr. Mike is chief wellness officer.
When 300 people test-drove a new Internet-based stress-management program that included meditation with deep breathing, their stress levels fell 25 percent. That’s a lot of “ah.” And the payoff is huge, too: When stress fades, you’re better able to avoid or control health conditions made worse by tension, such as asthma, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression, digestive woes and accelerated aging.
But if you rarely pay attention to your breathing, you’re not alone. Chances are you use just one-third of your lung capacity. That’s because you have slouchy posture and spend oodles of time hunched behind the wheel of your car or in front of a digital device. The result? Shallow breathing that doesn’t fully use the bottom portion of your lungs — home to hundreds of tiny blood vessels that help transfer oxygen from the air you inhale into your bloodstream and then help remove carbon dioxide with each exhalation.
Taking shallow breaths also means you’re missing out on the nervous-system calming effects of activating the sheet of muscle between your lungs and lower abdomen (diaphragm).
As it moves up and down, helping fill your bloodstream with energizing oxygen, it also switches on your body’s relaxation response.
That may be why breathing exercises, sometimes combined with meditation or yoga, are proven to help lower blood pressure, improve asthma symptoms, ease feelings of panic and anxiety, reduce pain, ease chest pain due to angina and help people with diabetes better control their blood sugar.
There’s even evidence that slow, calm breathing may boost production of alpha brain waves that put you into a relaxed, alert zone. And it improves heart health by boosting heart-rate variability, a sign of a relaxed, responsive cardiovascular system.
So here are four fun ways to be a better breather.
This stretches your neck, shoulders, back and core, clears your nasal passages and delivers plenty of wake-you-up oxygen to your brain and body.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show” (airing weekdays at 4 p.m. on WSET-Channel 13), and Dr. Mike Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic, are authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” Their column runs in Tuesday’s Extra.
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