As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I spent a weekend in Maine recently. I was there to shoot an exercise video that I hope will encourage the people who follow my program to get more of what’s best for bone. And by that, I don’t just mean movement — I also mean gaining an awareness of how to move in a way that’s both relaxing and healthful.
I was working with Meredith Sabella, a wonderful instructor from Springboard Pilates, which is a local studio in Portland. The studio is an adorable Victorian-style brownstone in a somewhat quiet neighborhood (I say “somewhat” because it’s close to a hospital and we had to do several retakes because of ambulance sirens!). A group of volunteers who performed the exercises with her as Meredith explained what to do. Meredith has a great way of explaining how to do the movements of Pilates, tai chi, yoga, and isometric exercises that I wish I could capture in words — but you’ll have to wait to see her in the video instead.
But one of the most important instructions Meredith gave as she took our volunteers through the exercises was such a simple thing, you’d think no one could overlook it — even though many people do. The instruction was simply to breathe deeply. It’s amazing that we need to be told this, but when we’re focused on performing exercises (and especially if they’re not very familiar moves) sometimes we forget to breathe deeply — or even at all. Holding your breath while exercising is a common mistake that people make, and they usually don’t realize they’re doing it.
It’s important to know that how you breathe while exercising affects your ability to exercise effectively.
Holding your breath (or breathing with shallow or short breaths) means too little oxygen gets to the muscles, and that means you tire sooner, so you don’t get the benefit of sustained activity.
In contrast, deep breathing not only provides your muscles with more oxygen, it also signals to your muscles to relax. And relaxing your muscles helps in a number of ways: it makes the muscle’s performance more efficient, it makes their motion smoother and less erratic (try swinging a golf club with tense arms and legs and see where it gets you!), and most importantly, it reduces both the stress factor involved with exercise and the potential for injury.
So the next time you go to exercise, try to keep in mind your breathing. Focus on keeping it slow, deep, and rhythmic. If you find yourself holding your breath or hyperventilating, make a conscious effort to draw in breath all the way to your belly, and then slowly release it (through your nose if you can). You may find your exercise regimen is both more relaxing and more energizing as a result. And that’s good for bones, too!