The health of your breathing has taken centre stage recently, so here we shine a spotlight on how to take care of your breathing function as well as the physical and mental benefits of better breathing.

Take good care of your lungs

Your lungs need moisture to glide and slide with each breath. Drink enough fluids like herbal tea to stay hydrated. 

Central heating dries the air. Leave a bowl of water on a radiator to keep the air moist or invest in a humidifier. A small ultrasonic one can be less than £20. You might consider adding essential oils like frankincense, eucalyptus or lavender. Open your windows at least for a few minutes every day to refresh and improve the air quality. Hoover regularly and use a damp duster to contain particles as you clean.

Cold air can irritate your lungs, cause your upper airways to narrow and make you cough, so cover your nose and mouth with a scarf when you’re out in chilly weather. Always breathe through your nose if you can.

Strengthen your lungs

Your nose is the first line of defence to protect your lungs. It moistens, warms and filters each breath. Breathe through your nose, even if you’re wearing a face covering.

Staying fit and keeping active will help to keep your lungs healthy. Any activity where you get out of breath is helpful. When you’re walking, challenge yourself by walking faster, going ‘off road’ on to different terrain or by incorporating hills into your route.

Singing works your breathing muscles and sustained notes help you to breathe more deeply and efficiently. It doesn’t matter what you sound like, the benefit is just the same! Singing is also a natural antidepressant so there’s a double benefit to putting on your favourite music and singing along. 

…and relax

Breathing is linked to your stress response. When you’re feeling calm and relaxed, your breathing is deeper and slower. When you’re excited, anxious or angry, your breathing is faster and shallower. 

Gently extending your exhale helps you to relax, reduces stress hormones like cortisol and reduces your experience of pain. The effect is enhanced when you deepen and slow down your breathing.

Breathing exercises

Counted breathing

Inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 6

Mindfulness using breathing

Count each exhale. After you’ve counted your 5th exhale, start again at 1. You will probably learn how easily your mind wanders, but practicing helps to improve your focus.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Lie on your back with your hands resting on your abdomen at about the height of your navel, elbows resting on the floor. Imagine breathing into your hands.

Breathing in a face covering

The feeling of being enclosed and sense of restriction can make you feel anxious when you’re wearing a face covering. Here are some ideas to calm any anxiety.

  • Practice wearing your face covering for a few minutes at home when you’re feeling calm and relaxed to break the association of anxiety
  • Follow a relaxing breathing practice before you put on your face covering
  • Notice anxiety is making you physically tense – maybe around your eyes, jaw, shoulders hands or abdomen. Take a moment to consciously soften those places – even just a tiny amount
  • Deliberately, but gently slow down your exhale rather than focus on taking a bigger inhale
  • Remember, if wearing a face covering is causing you any health problems – physical or mental – then you are exempt

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