This is the third in a series of blogs where we look at explaining how breathing training with POWERbreathe has a positive effect on your breathing muscles.
In this blog we’re looking at your respiratory control centre which resides at the base of your brain and controls your breathing by sending signals down your spine to your breathing muscles. We looked in depth at what makes up your breathing muscles in our first blog, 'POWERbreathe and your respiratory system' and 'What happens when you breathe and when you POWERbreathe' in our second blog.
Signals from your respiratory control centre
It’s the signals sent from your respiratory control centre that ensure your breathing muscles (diaphragm, intercostals and abdominals) contract and then relax with regularity. Because it’s signals from your brain that allow you to breathe automatically, you’re not aware of it. And because it happens automatically and with regularity, you might think that it’s beyond your ability to change your breathing rate, and you’d be partly correct. But to a limited degree you can change your breathing rate, as you can make yourself breathe faster, hold your breath and your breathing pattern changes too when you’re anxious or frightened.
Depending on how physically active you are your breathing will change, because the more active you are the more you’ll need to breathe. Your body does this automatically thanks to the many sensors in your brain, blood vessels, muscles and lungs.
It’s the sensors in your brain and the two major blood vessels that detect the level of carbon dioxide or oxygen in your blood, and then changes your breathing rate accordingly. The sensors in your airways detect lung irritants and it’s these sensors that can trigger a sneeze or a cough, and if you suffer with asthma, it’s these sensors that may cause the muscles around the airways in your lungs to contract, making your airways smaller and causing breathing difficulties.
Your alveoli, or air sacs, also have sensors and these detect the build-up of fluid in your lung tissues which is believed to trigger rapid, shallow breathing.
Your joints and muscles also have sensors that detect movement in your limbs and it’s these sensors that might play a role when you’re physically active by increasing your breathing rate.
Instead of panting, breathe deeply by using your POWERbreathe
We now know that your body will automatically adjust to your need for oxygen when you’re physically active by speeding up your respiratory rate, but you can also help yourself by breathing more deeply.
Instead of panting - a result of a heightened respiratory rate - you can train yourself to take in more oxygen by breathing in deeply over a few seconds, then exhaling over a few seconds.
POWERbreathe trains you to breathe in deeply, helping you to fill as much useable area of your lungs as possible, and making your breathing muscles stronger so that you can exert yourself for longer.
Why is it beneficial to take fuller breaths?
Lung size varies from person to person, so there are natural limits to lung capacity, however you can influence the total lung capacity that you actually use; your vital capacity.
When you breathe all the air out from your lungs, what’s left is called residual volume, or ‘stale air’, and it remains in your lungs. Too much of this is unhealthy.
If you have a respiratory condition, or are fairly inactive, your residual volume may increase, leaving you short of breath when you exert yourself.
So, by using POWERbreathe to exercise your breathing muscles, you’ll be strengthening your lungs’ supporting structure and improving your vital capacity, the usable portion of your lungs.
This not only benefits people with respiratory problems, such as asthma and COPD, but also athletes, because they are maximising their ability to breathe. This in turn makes their training or exercise feel easier and they are able to train for longer with a lower sense of effort, increasing their fitness and ultimately sports performance.
In our next blog we’ll be looking at ‘Breathing to improve sports performance’.
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