Could you improve your breathing?

From singers to athletes to the elderly with COPD to the young affected by asthma, there are millions of people who desire to breathe better.  Thankfully, doctors and scientists have studied the respiratory system for a long time and invented some pretty cool non-drug treatments and methods that can really improve the quality of your breathing.  We’ve written an article on How to have clear sinuses; this article focuses more on other ways to breathe better, including methods, exercises and devices.  

Wim Hof is a Dutchman, nicknamed “Iceman” who has become famous for doing unnatural feats like swimming under arctic ice running barefoot in ice and snow.  He claims that his breathing techniques will lead to tangible health benefits: more energy, lowered stress levels and an improved immune system. Breathe properly, Hof claims, and oxygen levels in the tissues increase and adrenaline floods the body, granting strength that we didn’t know we had.(discovermagazine.com)  It also allows him to have control over fears that adverse situations (like plunging into cold water) initiates.    While the researchers still have no solid theory as to why breathing and cold exposure seem to dampen immune activity, they suggest that the release of adrenaline during such breathing plays a role. The spike in adrenaline was linked to increased levels of an anti-inflammatory protein, and decreased levels of proteins, called cytokines, responsible for signaling the immune system.  Some followers of Hof were tested and found to have less inflammation, fever and nausea after being injected with an inflammatory agent during their breathing routines, than others who did not perform the techniques.   There have been other breathing techniques like the Valsalva Maneuver (used to clear an ear blockage, clear a heart arrhythmia, or get rid of the hiccups) and Lamaze, which increases tolerance to pain and aids relaxation.  Knowing that breathing and specifically, holding your breath produces (at least temporary) physiological body changes, regular practices may produce longer term benefits.  Here is a beginner’s video tutorial on Hof’s breathing method (10 minutes).  Whether you choose to use these changes to dive into icy waters or just enjoy life with less stress and illness, is up to you!  For more information about deep breathing techniques and benefits, check out our article here

Exercising devices

If you’ve ever had a lung infection or had to do a breathing test, the doctor may have handed you a bulky plastic device with a tube called a spirometer. This device assesses how well your lungs work by measuring how much air you inhale, how much you exhale and how quickly you exhale. (mayoclinic.org)  It’s economical, for sure, as there are no electronics involved.  However, it’s not very portable for anyone who has a busy lifestyle and wants to continue treatment and strengthening.  This is where a plethora of newer (literally) hand-held devices come in.  Some exercise your inhalation muscles (inspiratory), some exercise your exhalation (expiratory) and some do both.  Besides lowering stress and improving athletic performance, doing 30 breaths per day on a spirometer for six weeks lowers systolic blood pressure by about 9 millimeters of mercury, according to researcher Daniel Craighead, an integrative physiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.   Those reductions are about what could be expected with conventional aerobic exercise such as walking, running or cycling. (NPR.org)  The following were taken from the review “7 Best Lung Exercisers…” 

  • The Airphysio is an OPEP (oscillating positive expiratory pressure) device, which means it uses a pressure system, similar to a balloon to enact some pressure into your lungs, allowing you to train your breathing and clearing the mucus.  It’s easy to use and carry with you, and comes in low, average and sports lung capacity sizes (from $60).

  • The Airofit Breathing Trainer is designed for serious athletes and those who want to really increase their breathing capacity and endurance.  It is adjustable and allows you to train Respiratory Strength, Accessible Lung Capacity, Anaerobic Threshold, and other areas of your breathing.  It is bluetooth capable to link with an app for coaching and monitoring your progress (from $129).

  • The Breather is well-designed, affordable at $50, and easy to use.  It has 5 exhalation and 6 inhalation adjustable pressure settings to be used by people of varying goals, from athletes to COPD patients.

WellO2 is a product designed in Finland that uses resistance training and warm, moist air to improve lung function and open airways.  For athletes, deep breathing during WellO2 training stimulates the vagus nerve, which is part of the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the mind and improve sleep for better (athletic) recovery. (wello2.com)  For the elderly and those who struggle to breathe, it strengthens lungs and abdominal muscles, as well as helps to reduce congestion and clear sinuses.  It can help singers to warm up their voice before performances and stay well.  At 229 Euros, it’s not a cheap device, but could contain quite a few health benefits. 

Nasal aids

Maybe you’ve heard of BreatheRight strips, which were all the rage in the 1990’s-2000’s.  These are still very popular external devices, for athletes and those who are prone to nosebleeds or sensitivity in the nasal cavities.  Nasal stents are the next generation of these type devices, designed to open up your nostrils for better breathing while you are wearing them.  Check out this video of an ENT surgeon reviewing some of them. 

  • The Turbine claims to increase nasal air flow by 38%, and are designed for athletes to get the best breathing for the best sports results. Their trial pack includes 1 small, 1 medium and 1 large for $14.  They are reusable for 10 times per set. 

  • Mute is a nasal stent that is designed for use during sleep, to breathe and sleep better, and snore less. Their trial pack includes 1 small, 1 medium and 1 large for $8.

  • Airmax Nasal Dilators are $15 per set and made out of soft, flexible material to help optimize airflow for better sleep up to 76.1%. 

If you aren’t satisfied with your breathing or your health, why not give one or more of these a try?  They have less side effects than drugs, are less invasive than surgery, and could improve your life with better sleep and energy.  We’ve got to make the most use out of what’s free–the air around us! 

Photo by Raj Rana on Unsplash