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Take a deep breath!

Exercise your way to a healthier life with simple but powerful breathing techniques.

“When it comes to health and well-being, regular exercise is about as close to a magic potion as you can get.”

-Tich Nhat Hanh

Exercise is not just about getting up and moving. It's about building up your body’s strength and mental awareness to wake up each day and focus on what you can do that day. To do that, you needn’t move mountains each day. Even small consistent changes can bring big benefits. I spoke about it in some length in my previous blog, so let’s move forward from there. Before you begin, please remember that the medications you are on may cloud your ability to judge your capacity to exercise and surgeries such as lung surgery can affect your ability to exercise, so please talk to your physician before starting an exercise program.

Breathing exercises are key to lung health and rehabilitation and can also reduce anxiety and stress.

One easy way to get the body to ease into an exercise regime is by doing breathing exercises. Start slowly and build up your capacity and concentration and remember that consistent practice yields maximum benefit. Like any exercise, even focused breathing is effort; so listen to your body. All breathing exercises are best done with a straight back either sitting or lying flat, with closed eyes and shoulders rolled back to give your lungs enough space to expand. Take a 10 to 15 minute walk to prepare your body before you begin. Count your breaths for easier coordination.

There are several types of breathing exercises. Let’s start with the simplest kind.

Belly Breathing

  • Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.

  • Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.

  • Take a deep breath through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.

  • Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were making an O. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.

  • Repeat 5 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath and be mindful.

Once you are comfortable with belly breathing, try the following one either sitting or lying down.

3-5-7 Breathing

  • Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly breathing exercise.

  • Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, silently counting to 3 as you breathe in.

  • Hold your breath, silently counting from 1 to 5.

  • Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 7. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the count of 9.

  • Repeat 3 to 5 times or until you feel comfortable with the process.

The next type of breathing helps you to expand the use of your lungs, further decrease stress, and increase mindfulness. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and do keep in mind that you might get dizzy the first few times. In case that happens, just slow down and get up slowly.

Abdominal Breathing

  • Put your left hand on your belly and your right hand on your chest.

  • Practice filling your lower lungs by breathing so that your belly hand goes up when you inhale and your chest hand remains still. Always breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Do this 7 to 10 times.

  • When you have filled and emptied your lower lungs 7 to 10 times, add the second step to your breathing: inhale first into your lower lungs as before, and then continue inhaling into your upper chest. Breathe slowly and regularly. As you do so, your right hand will rise and your left hand will fall a little as your belly falls.

  • As you exhale slowly through your mouth, make a quiet, whooshing sound as first your left hand and then your right hand falls. As you exhale, feel your body relax.

  • Practice breathing in and out in this way for 3 to 5 minutes. Notice your belly and chest rise and fall like waves rising and falling. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

Both anecdotal and research-based evidence suggests that regular deep breathing exercises can help reduce fatigue, combat depression & anxiety, as well as improve your outcome, especially after surgery.

“We cannot start over. But we can begin now and make a new ending.”

My next blog will talk about how exercise can build your reserve and help deal with side effects related to treatment. Till then, inhale, exhale and relax.

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Reason to Hope

There is new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital that indicates a Western-style diet that is rich in red and processed meat, sugar and refined grains/carbohydrates is tied to higher risk of colorectal cancer through the intestinal microbiota.  Gastroenterology, 2022;DOI:10.1053/j.gastro.2022.06.054 

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