At Verv, we often mention breathing is an excellent way to catch your breath during exercise, for stress relief and reducing anxiety. And it is! But have you ever wondered why this simple piece of advice is so effective? Why does breathing help? Let’s dive right in and find out.

What happens when you breathe?

stop and breathe

You know the basics: when you breathe in, oxygen goes into your lungs and carbon dioxide is exhaled. But it’s not just your lungs that benefit from this process. The lungs, which are part of your respiratory system, work with your body’s other systems to spread the goodness of the oxygen throughout your body.

Your lungs work with your body’s circulatory system to deliver that O2 to your heart, veins, arteries, and capillaries, which connect with every part of your body, including those vital organs.

Then there’s the nervous system, lymphatic system, and the immune system. All of these work with the respiratory system to ensure it operates to perfection and vice versa. Meaning your entire body is connected, and breathing is a very essential part of it.

Quick breathing facts

nostril breathing

Get to know your body better with these fast facts about breathing:

  • 13 pints of air a minute. That’s how much the average person breathes
  • 17,000 breaths a Over 24 hours, that’s how much you breathe in and out
  • 42L of water is exhaled through the lungs each day
  • 70% of waste is extracted from the body via the lungs
  • 21% of the air we breathe in is oxygen. 79% is nitrogen. There are also some small particles of other elements in that 21% of oxygen, including helium, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen
  • 4-5% of the air we exhale is carbon dioxide. 16% is oxygen and 79% is nitrogen

Why Breathing Works

When we talk about breathing, remember the rule of 3.

The human body can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, but only 3 minutes without air.

That’s why it’s so important for our body to get enough of it. Although breathing is an automatic process, meaning you don’t have to think about it, when you engage your body in active, diaphragmatic breathing, you boost its performance ability.

But what is diaphragmatic breathing?

stomach heart

Diaphragmatic breathing is a method of actively breathing, which strengthens the muscles around your diaphragm (a sheet of muscles in the chest cavity which aids the breathing process). This helps by:

  • Strengthening the muscle around the lungs helping you breathe deeper and easier
  • Improving your body’s ability to take in oxygen and process it in the body and get rid of the buildup of unnecessary elements in your system
  • Helping to prevent loss of elasticity from respiratory conditions and underuse, such as asthma, COPD, or simply being unfit. This keeps your lungs in better shape for longer

Did you know? Breathing techniques are also used during birth. Known as the Lamaze method, such techniques are said to help manage pain and stress during labor.

Breathing exercises to try

breathing outside

You might think “hey, I already know how to breathe and I’m pretty good at it!” but you ain’t seen nothing yet. Knowing how to breathe more efficiently can:

  • Reduce your stress and anxiety levels
  • Boost your athletic performance
  • Help your body heal and regenerate
  • Go deeper into meditation
  • Improve digestion

So, let’s get straight to it. Here are some of the best breathing exercises you can do right now.

Basic chair pose

Seated Chair Yoga Poses

This simple pose and activity is great for getting started in breathing exercises. It’s so simple, you can do it almost anywhere.

  1. Find a straight-backed chair and sit down. Keep your feet on the floor and back straight
  2. Relax your shoulders as best you can and place one hand on your stomach
  3. Now, breathe in deeply through your nose. You should feel your belly fill up with air, while your chest should not change much
  4. Hold for a second and then purse your lips and blow the air out
  5. Repeat this activity for 1-2 minutes and feel your body relax

Standing stretch pose

Using your entire body, this pose and breathing activity helps you fully engage your body and breathe all at once.

  1. Stand on a mat with your feet hip-width apart
  2. Bend over at the waist and let your hands dangle on the floor
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose and as you do, rise up so that eventually you are standing on your tippy-toes with your hands in the air
  4. Hold this pose for 2-3 seconds
  5. Release and breathe out. Purse your lips and blow out the air as you slide back down into the bent-over position
  6. Repeat for 1-2 minutes

Lip pursing breathing

running breathing

Need the world to slow down and regain control? Try this simple lip pursing technique that helps you count your breath and regain control over your life.

  1. Sit or stand with your back straight. Get comfortable and relax your body
  2. Inhale through your nose deeply. Feel the air gather in your stomach
  3. Purse your lips as if you were about to blow a kiss
  4. Now, on the count of 5 beats, breathe out in short breaths through your pursed lips. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 hold
  5. Repeat this activity until you feel your heart rate slow and your worry ebb away
Written by Maria Isabella Neverovich
Maria is an Irish writer, Health Editor at Verv, lover of forests, mountains and all things nature. She enjoys discovering new vegetarian dishes, creating...
View all articles