When most of us think about losing weight and becoming fit, we tend to concentrate on our activity levels and what we eat, and rightly so, but achieving success often involves other factors too. If you’re struggling to lose those unwanted pounds, better breathing may be the missing link in your plan.
About now you might be shaking your head wondering what in the world I’m talking about – I mean of course you know how to breathe, right? But there really is more to it than inhaling and exhaling. If you aren’t breathing properly it can negatively affect your health and well-being, including your ability to lose weight and get into shape.
If you’re like most people, you probably tend to take quick, shallow breaths, especially when you’re under a lot of stress. Breathing this way means that you’re only using the top third of your lungs, and it doesn’t provide the oxygen the body needs to function at its best. Shallow breathing puts stress on the body and can lead to insomnia, fatigue, increased anxiety and even panic attacks.
When the body is under constant stress, levels of the hormone cortisol are increased, which can lead to unwanted weight gain for a number of reasons including increased appetite and cravings for sweets. It isn’t the stress per se that weakens willpower, it’s the cortisol. When you’re in a high stress situation, do you crave raw veggies or a bag of potato chips? Cortisol results in the body craving the most readily available source of energy, like refined carbs, that it can use quickly which is why we often turn to a chocolate bar or a big plate of pasta when we’re stressed.
Cortisol can even trigger the body to burn calories from carbs and lean muscle instead of fat. It inhibits the body from burning calories from stored body fat, taking you out of the fat burning mode that your body is designed to be in throughout the day, leaving you more stressed and wondering why you’re not losing weight.
One of the best ways to lower your cortisol level and combat the effects of too much stress is to learn to breathe properly, and to take several minutes each day to practice deep breathing techniques. Regular meditation provides these same beneficial effects; in fact, studies have found that people who meditate daily can decrease cortisol levels by an average of 20 percent.
If you just want to know how you can breathe properly to reduce stress and, ultimately, your cortisol level, it’s fairly simple.
The key to proper breathing:
Breathe deeply from the abdomen. Breathing deeply offers immediate positive effects as it fills the body with oxygen, improves circulation and even releases those “happy hormones” known as endorphins, providing a sense of peace and calm.
To practice, lie on your back in a room with dimmed light. Close your eyes and just observe your natural breath as it rises and falls. Is your breath coming from the chest? As you deepen your breath, it should come from the abdomen. Place your hand on the abdominal area and feel your breath. Take a slow, deep breath, while counting to five; hold for a moment and then take a deep exhale while counting to five again.
Taking the time to practice deep breathing can do wonders for your stress level, and your waistline!
Yours in health,
P.S. Share your comments below and let me know what other advice you have for breathing techniques or stress relief.