Are You A Belly Or Chest Breather?
Are you breathing correctly? There’s a good chance you are not.
We take about 20,000 breaths each day and use nearly 20 different muscles during each breath. If the muscles responsible for breathing do not work together in an efficient manner, oxygen intake is restricted. The result? Possible cellular malfunction and disease.
Do you know if you are a belly or a chest breather?
- If you are a chest breather, you are not breathing optimally and your health may be compromised. Improper breathing can negatively impact several systems within the body – including the immune, circulatory, endocrine and nervous systems.
- If you are a belly breather, you are breathing optimally and your body is benefiting in many ways.
In this article I explore the dangers of improper breathing, the benefits of proper breathing and show you how to test to see if you are a chest or belly breather.
Oxygen is essential for life
To sustain life, oxygen is necessary, as it is one of the most important nutrients for survival. It is more essential than food or water. The oxygen that flows through our blood provides us with physiological requirements we need to live. It powers our limbs, organs, and muscles. If our breathing is compromised, so is our vitality. Once your brain is deprived of oxygen, it only takes 10-15 minutes before it dies.
How much oxygen do humans consume?
- The average adult at rest inhales and exhales about 7 or 8 liters (about one-fourth of a cubic foot) of air per minute. For some, this may add up to 11,000 liters of air (388 cubic feet) per day.
- Inhaled air is about 20-percent oxygen, and exhaled air is about 15-percent oxygen.
- About 5-percent of the volume of air in each breath is converted to carbon dioxide.
- A human uses about 550 liters of pure oxygen (19 cubic feet) per day. We use even more oxygen when we exercise.
Proper breathing patterns are important
Have you ever thought about the importance of breathing correctly?
Did you know that when your breathing is distorted and/or restricted (chest breathing), you may be placing your health at risk? Think about it. Breathing supplies over 99% of your entire oxygen and energy supply. If your body is not receiving valuable oxygen, there are going to be consequences.
What is the proper way to breathe?
There are proper and improper ways to breathes.
- Breathing deeply from your belly (diaphragm) is an efficient way to breathe.
- Breathing shallowly from your chest is an inefficient way to breathe.
Dangers of improper breathing
Shallow, chest breathing may have many negative side effects such as:
- Creates mental fog and places the body at risk for neurological disease
- Weakens the immune system
- Causes dizziness
- Creates numbness
- Increases anxiety
- Creates chest and back pain
- Increases digestive problems (IBS) and diseases
- Increases allergies
- Weakens organs such as the heart and brain
- Causes and increases neck and shoulder pain
- Causes back pain and injury
- Increases risk for cancer
- Prolongs recovery from exercise, injury, and stress
- Increases mental and physical fatigue
- Promotes edema (swelling) within the body
- Causes poor posture and spinal alignment
- Restricts movement within the joints and muscles
- Creates chronic pain within the body
Benefits of proper breathing
Deep, belly breathing can greatly improve your lifestyle. Here are some benefits of proper breathing:
- Fuels energy production
- Improves lung capacity during competition
- Enhances athletic performance
- Increases metabolism and aids in digestion and weight-loss
- Eliminates toxins from the body
- Improves quality of the blood
- Enhances focus and concentration
- Reduces stress, tension and anxiety by increasing feelings of calmness and relaxation
- Improves bowel function
- May lower blood pressure
- Aids in maintaining and improving proper posture
- Relieves muscular and joint pain
- Improves the nervous system
- Makes the heart stronger
- Enhances cellular regeneration – assisting in the prevention of cancer
- Elevates moods
- Aids in alleviating symptoms of bronchitis and asthma
- Reduces mental and physical fatigue
- Reduces edema (swelling) within the body
- Increases rate at which the body recovers from exercise, injury and stress
The physiology of respiration (breathing)
Basic rules to follow when breathing optimally
- For optimal health, your breathing should come from the abdomen/diaphragm region.
- Each breath should be deep, slow, rhythmic and relaxed.
- Breathing should never be or feel forced.
- As you can see from the diagram above, when you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves down (and your belly pushes out).
- When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and moves up (and your belly pushes in).
Breathing from the diaphragm
This video provides a 3D demostration of proper breathing and shows the diaphragm in action:
Watch a child breathe
Have you ever watched a young child breathe? Unlike an adult, a child is unhindered in the way in which he/she breathes. A child often breathes optimally – from his/her belly (diaphragm).
This may sound weird, but if you have “access” to an infant, observe how he/she breathes.
- Lay the infant on his/her back with his/her protruding belly facing up.
- Watch him/her breathe.
- Does his/her chest rise?
- It may rise a little, but I am willing to bet that most of the action takes place in the belly region and that the baby is breathing efficiently.
- With belly breathing, the infant successfully activates his/her diaphragm to draw oxygen up into the lungs.
- With each inhalation, the infant contracts the diaphragm (moving it down the abdominal cavity), which then pushes the belly out, increases the capacity of the lungs, and influences an influx of oxygen – just like what is demonstrated in the video above.
Take this test to find out if you are breathing properly
To know if you are breathing properly, first find out if you are a belly or a chest breather. Perform this breathing test:
Simple breathing test
- Sit upright and straight in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor.
- Place one hand flat on your chest and your other hand flat on your stomach, over your belly-button.
- Take a normal breath while looking down.
- Notice the movement in your hands.
- Which hand moves the most as you breathe in?
- If the hand on your chest rises first, you are a chest breather and are not breathing optimally.
- If the hand on your abdomen rises first, you are more of a belly breather. This is good!
- Try it again with a quick breath (sniff) through your nose.
- Did the hand on your belly move?
- If not, you used too much of your chest to breathe and should start working on improving your breathing technique right away.
Practice breathing properly with this breathing exercise
We all can benefit from breathing more efficiently while we rest, sleep, run, do chores, etc. But to improve our breathing patterns, we must practice, and practice often. With consistent practice, correct breathing will become second nature. Remember, proper breathing is connected with a healthy body.
There are many breathing techniques, but one exercise I would like you to add to your daily routine is the simple deep breathing exercise.
- Visit my “The Simple Deep Breathing Exercise” article for step-to-step instructions on how to perform this exercise.
Are YOU a chest or belly breather?
Please share your thoughts and questions in the comment section below this post.
- Did you take my breathing self-test?
- Which category do YOU fall into? Are you a belly or a chest breather?
- Did the results surprise you? Why or why not?
When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.