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Cardio and Breathing for Better Health

Annie Pipkin, ACE CPT

November 10, 2020

Throughout the circulation of COVID-19, one of the most commonly mentioned symptoms, from the start, has been shortness of breath. We can often relate this to how we feel when we’ve completed a flight of stairs or when we engage in exercise after being inactive for a little too long. That shortness of breath feeling brings a little bit of a reality check on our cardio and breathing health. There is good news, though; there are very simple yet effective ways to easily improve our cardiovascular health and breathing habits that also offer many benefits.

The easiest way to begin improving your cardio is to find something you enjoy. It truly does not matter what you do to get your body moving, just the fact that you move your body for 20-30 minutes a day 4-5 times a week—walking through a mall, strolling through the park with a loved one, or taking a bike ride on the beach. Moving your body and improving your blood flow will allow for lower blood pressure, increased endurance, and improved oxygen use, which is beneficial to daily activities that may cause fatigue (Myers, 2003).

Another essential facet of our health is our breathing. Even easier than getting up for a walk through the neighborhood, you can increase your health through breathwork while sitting in your house! Practicing breathing exercises increases the amount of oxygen in our body and benefits our cells’ health by utilizing the oxygen to produce chemicals that fuel our cells. Breathing exercises can also reduce stress and improved organ function throughout the body (Zope, 2013). 

Here is a basic breathing exercise that can be done anytime, anywhere:

  1. While sitting or standing up straight, place your hand on your abdomen.
  2. Inhale through your nose while gently pushing your abdomen out. The hand placed on your abdomen moves outward. This allows the diaphragm to lower, which increases lung capacity. 
  3. Exhale slowly through tightly pressed lips (pursed lips), while gently pushing inward and upward with the hand on the abdomen to help completely empty the lungs. Imagine pressing your belly button to your spine as you exhale all your air.
  4. Slowly inhale through your nose, filling your lungs with air. Repeat the exercise several times a day.

Here are more breathing exercises along with videos from the American Lung Association.

Gentle stretching and opening up the ribcage can also relieve shortness of breath. Here is a great video that walks you through some gentle stretches and breathing exercises that are done lying down.

Another good way to get oxygen into our lungs is through laughter and singing! Many people take these two activities for granted, but staying in control of your breath while singing or laughing can be quite hard for people with lung disease. Start slow, and don’t try breathwork if you are already out of breath. Can you sing a 1-minute song or visit with a friend while sitting without getting winded? Once you can do that, try standing, then perhaps walking. Exercises that require us to focus on our breathing can be performed while participating in other activities such as walking or can be done in the comfort of your living room. 

It doesn’t matter if you are swimming laps at the local pool, doing some yard work, or taking a few deep breaths at the end of a long day. Just get out there and get moving! Your heart, lungs, health, and happiness will thank you!

Myers, Jonathan. “Exercise and cardiovascular health.” Circulation 107.1 (2003): e2-e5.

Zope, Sameer A., and Rakesh A. Zope. “Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health.” International journal of yoga 6.1 (2013): 4.

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