Breathing or Exercise? Confused? Do read on . . .

On one of my walking routes, I noticed an advertisement outside River Bourne Health Club in Chertsey. It said: Are you looking to stay fit as you age, lose weight, and tone up?

The ad clearly indicated that as you get older, your fitness will decrease, you will gain weight and your body will lose tone. As apt as it is, I’d add my own extension to it – Do you know how to breathe properly? Through my own experience, I learnt, that conscious-mindful-breathing is even more important than exercise.

People in Forces are trained to breathe properly to maintain well-being, focus the mind and improve performance under pressure. I think, to learn how-to-breathe properly would be beneficial for everybody; in this complex world, we have lots more challenges than we ever did before.

Breathing correctly provides more muscular endurance in any cardio-centric activities: running, swimming, biking, etc which means using the diaphragm muscles between chest and abdomen. Using chest muscles in breathing puts pressure on the heart increasing anxiety & stress, along with encouraging shallow breathing and the possibility of shortness of breath. Short exhalations cause toxins to accumulate, creating an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system leading to anxiety and depression.

Although breathing itself is an autonomic function too, it does require conscious application in order to benefit the body fully than merely sustain life. Breathing properly impacts body mechanics, strengthening one’s core by using breath to advantage everyday of life. And, when our autonomic nervous system is in balance, it allows for renewal and healing of the body.

My dad was in the Forces. He used to say, you can’t control your body’s natural adrenaline response, but you can control your breathing. While I was growing up, he showed me the spitfire technique: 2 counts take-in deep breath, 3 counts h-o-l-d then for 5-counts and to keep going till lungs are empty. I’m ashamed that I didn’t heed his advice. If anyone was to ask me today, if you had a chance to put clock back, what would you have rather done differently? Very honestly, it would’ve to be proper breathing.

Naturally, one can’t go through the day doing this continually but what would be ideal is to take advantage of frequent opportunities whenever possible or even in bed when trying to sleep. You will only know next morning that you fell off to slumber while doing your gentle deep breadths. What immediate results!

On the other hand, results from exercise take time to manifest. A one-off strenuous workout once-a-week is less effective than doing regularly. Consistency improves quality-of-life & independence in old age.

On this 5th anniversary of my inaugural walk to reclaim my life and health, I can list, with confidence, benefits that I have experienced: improved gastric ability, reduced belly fat, lowered body mass index, lowered blood pressure & cholesterol, lower blood sugar and improved memory and mood. I think, that’s a good run for my walking. And without any medication – still better!

I had a severe imbalance of chemicals resulting in a host of ailments all due to improper approach to life. I was a quaking wreck; either I faced my health crisis squarely or die. Keep moving became my philosophy of life. With this simple profound philosophy, I was effectively restoring my health.

So, what happens when you exercise? Endorphins are released which promote a sort of bliss providing a sense of well-being. My body feels less pain and my immune system has boosted exponentially. I think, my body may be producing its own alcohol too. That explains my feelings of joy, pleasure and euphoria!

Endorphins help to have a relationship with your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes which have a great influence on biological functioning. Our minds can affect how healthy our bodies are – like they say – ‘Mind over Matter’. Just a couple of simple ruminations.

Think of a book spine – the printer determines strength of spine is required based upon the number of pages and the thickness of the paper etc. How can we then expect our spine to support weight in excess of its limits? The excess weight will put undue pressure on all joints, internal organs, and the immune system with predictably undesirable outcomes.

Do birds fly miles-on-end because they are having fun? No – they do so out-of-necessity in search of food.

For us humans too, moving is no luxury, it is a necessity. Let’s give our body due regard it deserves: Forget the gadgets, just 5 basic movements will encompass nearly all our everyday motions to give us strength, endurance, proper posture and balance: pull (tugging toward you), hip-hinge (bending from the middle), push (pressing away from you), squat (flexing at the knee), and plank. Start with only 2 of each and then increase by one-a-day. You won’t see the difference straightaway, but you’ll feel good and in-time it just gets better and you won’t want to stop. Most importantly, it makes us feel good and when we feel good, we perform better in other areas of life.

Rather than me listing the-never-ending benefits of exercise, which one can read online anyway, I will just say 2 words – exercise works! Whether it is arthritis, osteoporosis or asthma. Yes, that’s right; asthma is not a difficulty of breathing in but breathing out.

We often hear people saying, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Oh hello! That is true, but it goes for all parts of the body, not just one.

Once again, if asked, what else you would have done differently if you had a chance? Most certainly, I would’ve made lifestyle changes before my pendulum had swung too far. But dwelling in the past does not help; action matters! Any amount of activity you get beyond resting offers improvements. If you’re able to, consider yourself profoundly blessed and do it.

Let’s go back to the ad in the opening: if you keep moving, like you did when you were younger, your fitness will not decrease, you will not gain weight and your body will stay toned and you will not fall victim of the noxious diseases. But remember all this coupled with conscious-mindful-breathing – it’s an extremely powerful tool which mankind has underestimated for centuries.

Stay steadfast to your pledge; only ‘you’ can be your own inspired force. I will leave you with that transformative thought! Just hear yourself – hear-your-breathing – you are alive – live well!

You can contact Teren Hanz at:

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