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Just Breathe

Any country music fans out there? If so, you might have the lyrics to the Faith Hill song running through your head. Or maybe you're in the midst of a yoga class. Just breathe. Many of us do it without much thought or effort. However, it can become more difficult during bouts of intense exercise, days with extreme pollen levels, in high altitudes, smoke filled air, or for individuals who have acute or chronic respiratory ailments. In cases of asthma or COPD attacks, it can seem virtually impossible.

Before we get to the main point of this article, let's first explore the process of breathing. Taking a breath involves several steps. How it begins is comparable to the chicken VS egg idea. Do we inhale or exhale first? Does it matter? Possibly for theorists, but for today's topic probably not merely because they are equally important for the initiation and sustainment of life. In most situations, including those listed earlier (singing and yoga) we are cued to inhale then exhale so following the wise scholars that came before us, I will begin with inhalation. Inhalation is defined as taking air into the lungs. Without excessive mucus buildup, this can be completed through the nose where it is filtered by small hair-like projections called cilia. These separate the CO² into smaller parts (carbon and oxygen) to be used by the body. The air then travels to the lungs via bronchial tubes and cleaned even further by sacs called alveoli. Purified air (oxygen) is absorbed by the cells while carbon, unused oxygen, and other toxins are released from the lungs back up the trachea through what is known as exhalation or expulsion of air from the body.

But this is a fitness blog and the title is just a segway to what is really going to be addressed in this weeks post. So what does breathing have to do with exercise anyway? Well...everything! Imagine, if you will, holding your breath the entire length of a one mile run. Sounds crazy, huh? Yes coach, running a mile is definitely coo coo! Surely it is, but I was referring to not allowing yourself to inhale or exhale the entire time! Now that is what I call insanity. Not only would it be extremely silly but deadly as well. Our brains require a constant supply of oxygen for proper functioning and without it, the cells die and bodily functions become significantly impacted. Unfortunately, those who suffer from the aforementioned conditions of asthma, COPD and/or emphysema feel this way on a daily basis without performing any strenuous activity. Fortunately, though, symptoms are somewhat relieved with the use of inhaled corticosteroid medications such as prednisone.

So what exactly is asthma? Simply put, it is a condition in which someone's airway becomes inflamed. Sufferers can experience mild to severe symptoms depending on the triggers and time exposed to them. At this time, there is no cure, rather only daily management and treatment when flare-ups occur. An asthma attack can be life-threatening so immediate attention may be necessary. Persons with asthma should be aware of their surroundings when outdoors an avoid stimuli as much as possible. Move exercise to early morning, late evening after the sun goes down or indoors to help reduce the chances of a medical emergency.

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Like asthma, people with it have difficulty breathing and often control it with rescue inhalers. That is where the similarities end. Instead of being diagnosed as a single issue, COPD is made up of two other respiratory illnesses (chronic bronchitis and emphysema) combined. As its name implies, once diagnosed, it usually lasts a lifetime. Being that it is a combination of multiple conditions, there will be good and bad days and variable symptoms, so be mindful of them when doing physical activity. Don't let COPD hinder your workout plans all together, just modify the intensity of what you do if something doesn't feel quite right. A brisk walk isn't in the cards today? No worries, don't push your body to ninja warrior levels as that might exacerbate the condition or land you in the hospital. Choose lighter weights and lower impact movements that don't rapidly increase your heart rate over max lift days and high energy output cardio classes. Any exercise you select is awesome because it forces you guessed it...just breathe. How this all comes together will be discussed in greater detail in a future blog so those with inquiring minds...stay tuned...

While you are still inhaling (get it?) all of the information I have shared, you most likely are breathing effortlessly. Your brain is receiving sufficient amounts of air to allow you to process the letters on this page that are forming words and/or sit up tall and enjoy a latte during your "me" time. Americans and others around the world with respiratory ailments that find it more difficult to do what is done naturally by the rest of us, know you CAN control, CAN manage and CAN get up, get out and get moving! What are you waiting for...go do it...and remember to...just breathe!

Test your exercise IQ:

When lifting heavy objects such as dumbbells or kettlebells, is it better to inhale or exhale during the work phase?

Answer given next week so come back to see if you were right!

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