The Key to Increasing Quality of Life Through Respiration Part 2: Breathing Patterns
Diaphragmatic breathing has shown to decrease heart rate, put us in a better state of mind, and help down regulate our system when we are overwhelmed. However, diaphragmatic breathing can also help us improve core control and overall strength. Just like skeletal muscle, our respiratory muscles are made up of slow and fast twitch fibers that concentrically contract and eccentrically lengthen with every breath we take. On the foundation of their functional properties, slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers are present in equal quantities within the diaphragm. The diaphragm however, features an abundance of slow twitch, higher aerobic oxidation enzymes that have a greater number of capillaries. These physiological properties allow our respiratory muscles to work involuntary, or without our conscious thought.
The diaphragm is composed of skeletal muscle and dense collagenous connective tissue. It originates at the sternal part of the xiphoid process, costal cartilage of the 7-12th ribs, down to the 1st-3rd lumbar vertebrate and finishes at the central tendon. When you breathe in air through the thorax, volume increases pushing the domed shaped diaphragm down and expanding the ribcage transversely and vertically. As the thoracic volume increases, the ribs flare up (externally rotate) to allow for even more volume and pressure to occur. Once the lungs are filled with potential air, the exhalation process occurs where the diaphragm ascends back up, rotating the ribs down to expel all the carbon dioxide. Through exhalation the abdominal muscles and deep core muscles concentrically contract, pulling the ribs down and tilting the pelvis back to close the distance between the anterior ribcage and pelvis.
When there is an increase in higher intensity exercise and decreased movement, our posture changes leaving the ribs flared out and the pelvis tipped forward. This decreases core strength and increases stress on the joints.
Our secondary response (fight or flight), heighten its activity and stimulus allowing us to get from point A to B through compensatory patterns or through poor movement. This changes our breathing patterns because we have to work harder to move because our muscles and joints are not in the optimal position to do what they do best. This eventually becomes a subconscious pattern and becomes integrating into our intrinsic involuntary respiration patterns. Over time these patterns spill over into our daily activities and take on roles, such as contributing to tight muscles (neck, lower back, hips), anxiety, loss of sleep and neuromuscular fatigue.
Improving breathing patterns and posture will decrease stress and improve overall quality of life. However, it takes time and consistency. Remember, you take around 16,000 to 24,000 breaths a day, times that by 365 days and you have some work to do. It is a process that won’t change overnight but with a little bit of work a few days a week you can make great gains in how you feel overall. Work on standing up more often, walking to the water cooler or around the office once every few hours can keep your core muscles stronger after a long day of limited movement. Sitting upright and taking in a few breaths in through the nose and then exhaling through the mouth, tucking the ribcage down ever so subtly, can easily change your posture and allow your body the opportunity to down regulate and enjoy the present moment.
These are simple approaches to improving breathing patterns in a world of controlled chaos. During your workouts you want to get away from the world and let off some steam. It is a time to push all your troubles a side and get after it. That is how it should be but don’t forget that if you work on your breathing before and after your workouts, you have the opportunity to push the limits even further than what you have before.
We thrive off the ability to breathe in oxygen, transfer it, then exchange it for waste so we can expose of it through exhalation. Your posture effects this process, check out part 3 as I go through some simple exercises you can do before and after to add to your tool box of exercises.
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Intrinsic motivation is something that develops over time. Kids don’t yet have the cognitive abilities to grasp the concept that, “exercising is good for physical and mental health.” The understanding that by “doing something good for your body now, your future self will thank you,” is far too abstract. Kids don’t live for the future, they live for the here and now.
By the time children are in high school and/or go through puberty, those high order thinking cognitive processes begin to develop. However, social obligations and a sense of figuring out one’s own identify often trump the desire to be consistently active for one’s own physical and/or mental health purposes.
Sports certainly help, as they play a role in encouraging healthy competitiveness within oneself and others, as well as promotes team building and social opportunities that child and young adults actively seek out. However, not every kid plays a sport or has the health opportunities to actively participate in one. So, how do we encourage motivating?
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Some will say, intrinsic motivation is ideal because it creates long lasting effects on one’s drive and purpose to reach a goal. The definition of intrinsic motivation is, “behavior that is driven by internal rewards.” Extrinsic motivation is the opposite. Extrinsic motivation is defined as, “behavior that is motivated to perform an activity to receive an award or avoid punishment.”
When starting to increase your child’s motivation to exercise, extrinsic motivation is the “easiest” way to go. When young, a child/teen is beginning to develop his/her own sense of motivation and enjoyment from exercising, something that is not going to happen overnight. Fortunately, exercising regularly will naturally contribute to developing intrinsic motivation, as it increases the feel-good happy chemicals in your brain (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins). But, habits do take time, so here are three tips to increase your child’s motivation to exercise!
- Reward System
There are often mixed reactions to implementing a reward system. However, a reward system is not something to frown about when working on establishing a foundation for positive behaviors. Research has shown that children respond better to positive reinforcements than they do to negative reinforcements.
How to begin a behavior reinforcement plan:
- For children ages 7-12: Make a personalized goal tracker with your child. For example, if want your kid to do something physically active 3x a week, create a page with three boxes per week to check off after each workout (e.g., can use stickers, a drawing, a penny, etc.)
- For children 13 and older: they can often keep rack on their own, and independence is key for teenagers and young adults.
- Each workout = 1 point.
- It is up to you to decide how often a reward occurs and what the reward will be.
- Reward types: with your child’s help, create a list of 5 items/things that might be motivating to earn. For example, 30 minutes of a favorite show, a new toy or “surprise box,” staying up later one night a week, choice of a favorite meal for dinner, a new book, etc. The possibilities are endless!
- Each workout = 1 point.
- Social Opportunity
As an adult, performing 15 reps, 4x on one exercise is manageable. Our attention is longer. We enjoy isolation more. We have intrinsic motivation or tangible goals set for ourselves, like losing weight. However, children and young adults are heavily socially dependent with shorter attention spans. Their worlds thrive around social opportunities, So, make physical exercise a social experience. Workout with your child, put on a YouTube video and together and complete 30 minutes. Put on your child’s favorite music on in the background and encourage your child to work out for 20 minutes (set a timer). One time a week (or more) invite a friend or sibling, make it an event that can be done inside or outside, and make it fun.
- Bring back Play
Which brings us to our third tip: Bring back play! Even if you have a teenager or young adult, play is important to developing a positive attitude towards physical exercise. Play can consist of hiking with friends or family, trying a new activity in your community, and generally, reducing the strict structure around exercise that children and young adults often try to escape as they build independence and autonomy. A majority of the time, exercising can consist of structured exercises catered around a specific goal, however, a few times a month it’s important to switch it up and encourage exploring of physical exercise through unstructured (play) opportunities.