Exercise for the desk-bound on National Fitness Day
National Fitness Day today in the UK. People are joining in fitness activities all over the country.
And you are? ………. Sitting at your desk!
Want to take part in the day and contribute to your fitness?
I’ve got your desk-bound body covered.
Lungs. You can exercise your lungs.
Here are three reasons why taking five minutes to practise a breathing technique contributes to your fitness and overall wellbeing:
Breathe out the stale
You know when you walk into an old person’s house and there’s a musty, stale air smell? Well, stale air can accumulate in your lower lungs if you are not using them fully.
Why does stale air accumulate? Because we don’t breathe deeply enough. This isn’t about taking a big breath, but a deep breath; deep being the opposite of shallow. For air to reach your lower lungs, you need to use your main breathing muscle, your diaphragm. Think of it like a piston, when it contracts, it pushes your lower organs out of the way creating a vacuum that pulls air right down into your lower lungs. Since your belly pushes out, people refer to diaphragmatic breathing as ‘belly breathing’.
Out with the stale air, in with the oxygen-laden fresh air.
Strengthen your diaphragm
As well as being our main breathing muscle, we use the diaphragm to speak and to help maintain our posture. Although we are all born belly breathers, we can become ‘chest’ or ‘top’ breathers due to prolonged stress, illness, injury, back pain, sucked in stomach etc. Chest breathers use their chest, shoulder and neck muscles to expand their chest, rather than using their diaphragm and intercostal muscles to create space for the lungs to expand.
In the breathing exercise below, the chest muscles are given another job so they can’t be used for breathing. By clasping your hands behind your head, you encourage/force your diaphragm to reclaim its breathing role.
Belly breathing in a reclined seated position
- Set a timer for 5 minutes or find a 5-minute song
- Recline in your desk chair and clasp your hands behind your head
- Relax your belly area
- Inhale through your nose for 3-4 counts
- Exhale through your nose for 6-8 counts
- Close your eyes and return to the natural belly breathing of your childhood
- Improved delivery of oxygen to all tissues and organs (including brain)
- Retraining body to breathe with the diaphragm
- Strengthening diaphragm to help breathing and core stability
- Stretching of chest muscles releases tension in that area
Practise conscious breathing
Respiration is one of the few bodily functions that can be voluntary or involuntary, also referred to as conscious or unconscious breathing. A complex system of checks, particularly around levels of carbon dioxide in our blood, keep us breathing whether we are asleep or awake.
When we practice conscious breathing, we direct our awareness to our breathing. It can be a very useful tool when we are spiralling out of control due to fear or anxiety. I think of it as using my body to lead my brain – I take back control of my breathing so I can find calm both mentally and physically.
Fitness is an everyday affair
It’s great that we have a National Fitness Day – there is nothing like uniting a whole nation around the theme of fitness and wellbeing. Plus, it’s fun!
Fitness needs to be an everyday affair though, and conscious breathing is one way we can contribute to our health and wellbeing without any sports equipment or special venues.
Retraining dysfunctional breathing habits (studies show 80% of us are not breathing correctly), means improved oxygen delivery to all tissues and organs, increased concentration and clarity, improved sleep patterns, better stress management … to name but a few of the benefits.
Go on … sit back in your desk chair today and breathe for the fitness of your lungs!