Proper breathing allows the body and muscles to perform at their best, especially during exercise when the demand for oxygen and energy increases. Mastering control over the rate, rhythm and depth of your breathing can have many advantages, pre- and post-workout.
A breathing exercise can improve lung capacity and enhance muscular endurance and strength. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Many people who practise breathing exercises experience benefits to their physical and mental health.
Focused breathwork impacts the optimal functioning of every system in your body. For example, a Journal of Clinical Medicine study reports that mindful breathing may improve endurance performance.
Benefits of breathing exercises
Reduces stress and pre-race anxiety
Studies have shown that breathwork can stimulate relaxation and lower the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. A conscious breathing exercise can help calm the nerves before a stressful meeting or physical challenge. This kickstarts recovery, bringing the body into "rest and digest" mode after a workout.
Boosts concentration pre-workout
The average adult breathes around 12 to 20 times a minute when at rest. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Calming the stress response system can keep you alert, sharpening your focus. Studies have also shown that breath control can stimulate specific areas in the brain linked to enhanced cognitive function.
Improves blood circulation and heart health
Breathing exercises can reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure. They also improve delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles during and after training. The resulting increase in blood circulation reduces fatigue and soreness during post-workout recovery.
Improves lung capacity
Shortness of breath can make you feel weak and exhausted as you exercise and afterwards. Deep breathing exercises can significantly improve lung capacity, increase your oxygen consumption, reduce fatigue and improve recovery.
How to practise diaphragmatic breathing
Breathing exercises can benefit everyone. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Breathing exercises allow the body and muscles to perform at their best. If you're new to breathwork, try diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing or pranayama breathing in yoga.
The trick to deep diaphragmatic breathing is to slow down, focus on the rhythm and engage your diaphragm. With regular practice, breathing with your diaphragm instead of your chest will become second nature.
Here's how to practise diaphragmatic breathing:
- Sit up straight in a chair or lie down in a comfortable position. Keep your shoulders pulled back and away from your ears.
- Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest.
- Inhale deeply through your nose for about four seconds. With your hand on your abdomen, you should be able to feel your abdomen expand. Hold your breath for three seconds.
- Count slowly for six seconds as you exhale through your mouth and contract your abdominal muscles.
- Repeat the cycle for five to 10 minutes, focusing on each inhale and exhale.
This slow, rhythmic breathing exercise can give you a sense of relaxed energy when tension and anxiety are at their peak. After a race or anytime you need to regain control over a restless mind, shift to belly breathing for a minute or two.
Consult your doctor before trying new breathing exercises if you have a lung or heart condition or suffer from dizzy spells.
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Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2021. Impact of a Breathing Intervention on Engagement of Abdominal, Thoracic, and Subclavian Musculature during Exercise, a Randomized Trial. [online] [Accessed on 21 March 2023]
Frontiers in Psychology. 2017. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. [online] [Accessed on 21 March 2023]
Neurological Sciences. 2017. The role of deep breathing on stress. [online] [Accessed on 21 March 2023]
Cleveland Clinic. 2023. Vital Signs. [online] [Accessed on 21 March 2023]
Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2021. Coronavirus Recovery: Breathing Exercises. [online] [Accessed on 21 March 2023]
Sports Medicine. 2012. Effect of respiratory muscle training on exercise performance in healthy individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis. [online] [Accessed on 11 July 2022]
Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 2017. Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing Patterns on Balance: A Preliminary Clinical Trial. [online] [Accessed on 11 July 2022]
Frontiers in Psychology. 2017. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. [online] [Accessed on 11 July 2022]
Respiratory Care. 2020. Effects of Inspiratory Muscle Training in Older Adults. [online] [Accessed on 11 July 2022]
Journal of Sports Science. 2011. Inspiratory muscle warm-up and inspiratory muscle training: separate and combined effects on intermittent running to exhaustion. [offline] [Accessed on 11 July 2022]
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