A plastic model showing the cross-section of a brain.

Your respiratory control centre resides at the base of your brain. It controls your breathing by sending signals down your spine to your breathing muscles.

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 are not aware of it, unless you have a breathing problem. And because it normally 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. Because, to a limited degree, you can change your breathing rate. For instance, you can make yourself hold your breath when going under water. Furthermore, your breathing pattern will change too if you become anxious or frightened.

Respiratory sensors

Depending on how physically active you are your breathing will change. This is because the more active you are the more you’ll need to breathe. Your body will do 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. It 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. Also, if you suffer with asthma, it’s these sensors that may cause the muscles around the airways in your lungs to contract. And it’s this that makes your airways smaller, 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. It is these sensors that might play a role when you are physically active, by increasing your breathing rate.

Breathe deeply by using POWERbreathe IMT

Your body will automatically adjust to your need for oxygen when you are 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. To do this, try breathing in deeply over a few seconds, then exhaling over a few seconds. POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) trains you to breathe in deeply, helping you to fill as much useable area of your lungs as possible. It exercises your breathing muscles to become 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. As a result, it will leave you feeling short of breath when you exert yourself.

So, by using POWERbreathe IMT to exercise your breathing muscles, you’ll be strengthening your lungs’ supporting structure. And, as a result, you will improve 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. Consequently,  athletes are able to train for longer with a lower sense of effort, increasing their fitness and ultimately sports performance.

Find out more about The Breathing System and What Happens When You Breathe.