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Exhale on exertion

Everything our bodies does is created to help us with survival.

Every second our body is receiving and processing so much information from our senses and automatically translating that into what we need to do with this.

Our nervous system has two branches to it. The sympathetic nervous system helps us at times of threat and when we need to utilise energy. It creates the “fight flight freeze response”, raising our heart-rate and getting us ready for action. The parasympathetic nervous system enables us to “rest and digest”. Our heart rate lowers and we can think clearly. It is like a sea saw in which one system will inhibit the other. Whenever we do something strenuous our heart rate increases, and our sympathetic nervous system is active, creating adrenaline and cortisol.

parasympathetic nervous system
The Vegal nerve starts in the medulla of the brain

The Vegus nerve (Vegus means wandering in Latin) is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves in our body. It starts in the area of our brain that manages automatic functioning, temperature regulation, heart rate, digestion, sneezing, swallowing and voice control, it connects to the diaphragm to slower heart rate and down to the stomach, from the stomach it will then take messages back to the brain about stress levels. That phrase “feel it in my guts” not only is it due to the signals the Vegus never create but the digestive system produces the majority of the bodies serotonin (Happy hormone).

Slow exhales out activate and stimulate the Vegus nerve. By slowing down our exhale it enables us to lower our blood pressure and reduce inflammation. At times of physical or mental stress, long slow breathes out are going to help you think clearly, calmly and conserve energy.

An indicator of health is our Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV is the time interval between heart beats. The higher the heart rate variability score the lower the risks for cardiac arrest and diabetic neuropathy. As HRV is influenced by the vegal nerve it is believed that a healthy, strong vegal nerve with improve our HRV score. There is a polyvagal theory that you can develop strong Vegal tone in which it becomes easier to access our “rest and digest state. Dr Stephen Porges has written considerable amount on the subject and in future blogs I will provide more information on these strategies. One of the quickest and easiest strategies to make a habit is slow exhales out.

At times of panic have you noticed that a person will rapidly breathe in, desperate to get more oxygen into our system, we will always inhale, we often forget the out breath. If you are feeling panicked breath out, the inhale breath will happen automatically.

When we lift a heavy weight we get a spike in our heart rate and blood pressure. During exercise the hardest part of the movement is when we are working against gravity (holding your body up in a plank position) or when we lift or push. We can find ourselves holding our breath. In this moment exhale.

Sarah is an Occupational Therapist and personal trainer who is passionate about helping people flourish @MoodLifterPT She is always happy to be contacted if you want to find out more.

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