The benefits of breathing exercises are well documented. It reduces stress, enhances lung performance, and improves cognitive and physical health. All things that are particularly important for seniors.
As we age, there are several factors that can impact our lung health. Our diaphragm muscle gets weaker, lung tissue loses elasticity, and even our rib cage bones can get smaller.
Fortunately, there are exercises we can do to slow down the effects of aging on our lung health. Let’s take a look at some breathing exercises to improve our lung health and reduce stress in the process.
To get the most out of each breath we take, it’s essential to engage our diaphragm as we breathe. This will be true of any breathing exercise you attempt.
When we’re born, we naturally engage the diaphragm muscle with each breath we take. But as we get older and stress burrows into our bodies we pick up the bad habit of breathing into our chest. Breathing into, or from, our chest keeps us from getting the full amount of oxygen our bodies need. This, in turn, increases stress and causes our diaphragm to weaken from a lack of use.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly or abdominal breathing, has been proven to increase the oxygen in your blood, reduce heart rate & blood pressure, help you relax, and improve lung health. And fortunately, it’s easy to do.
Start by laying down or sitting in a chair, whatever is most comfortable for you.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
Inhale slowly through your nose and let the air fill up your belly like a balloon. Your bottom hand should rise with your belly as the hand on your chest remains still.
Hold your breath for a moment.
Exhale slowly through pursed lips as you bring your belly inward. Your bottom hand should follow your belly back to its original position, while the hand on your chest stays still.
Repeat as many times as you like. Two to five minutes of this breathing is a great starting point to begin building the habit and muscle.
Coherent Breathing is very similar to Diaphragmatic Breathing. You slowly breathe through your abdomen, but you try to bring your breathing rate to five breaths per minute.
Coherent breathing can improve lung health, combat depression & anxiety, and promote a healthy nervous system. While the goal in Coherent breathing is to get your breathing rate to five breaths per minute, there is no pressure to start out at that rate.
Slowly build into it and always take a step back if you feel uncomfortable. Remember that the main point of breathing exercises is to help you relax. Let’s take a look at how to do coherent breathing.
Find a comfortable position, either lying down or sitting up.
Slowly breathe in for a count of five while expanding your belly.
Pause for a moment.
Slowly breathe out for a count of six as your belly returns to its normal position.
Repeat as many times as you like. As with Diaphragmatic breathing, start out slowly to build up the habit.
Full Yogic Breath
While the previous two breathing exercises have focused on solely engaging the diaphragm, a Full Yogic Breath will utilize your whole body. This breath reduces stress, improves lung health, and activates your parasympathetic nervous system to help you relax.
Before starting this exercise, make sure you are comfortable with Diaphragmatic breathing first as it plays a key role in this exercise. Let’s take a look at how to do a Full Yogic Breath.
Find a comfortable position, either laying down flat or sitting up with your spine straight.
Close your eyes and take a few natural breaths through the nose.
As you breathe in, take the first third of your breath into the diaphragm, expanding the belly. Breathe the next third into the rib cage and the final third into the chest.
Exhale through the nose in reverse order. Empty the chest, then the rib cage, and finally your belly.
Repeat up to ten times. As always, start out small and only do what you’re comfortable with. If you find this exercise too difficult, spend more time with Diaphragmatic and Coherent Breathing exercises.
These breathing exercises can be something you do on your own, or with a caregiver by your side.
We offer a complimentary consultation to help you find the perfect fit.