How to breathe

Many people don’t know that deep breathing from the diaphragm is important to their overall health and stress reduction.

Babies breathe from their diaphragm, and one way that we can restore strength and balance is to perform actions that bring us back to our developmental roots. Infants integrate their bodies with the environment through basic motions that can help us understand our nervous system.

Most adults have adopted an unhealthy way of breathing mostly by expanding their rib cages. This method of breathing is actually your body’s “emergency” breathing system. Because rib cage breathing is related to the fight-or-flight response, doing it can actually activate your body’s stress response system, which is very unhealthy in the long run. Why do people breathe this way? One reason is that it allows you to suck in your stomach in order to appear more in shape than you really are.

By re-training yourself to breathe from your diaphragm–to breathe more from your belly than your chest–you can reduce the stress response associated with chest breathing and help rekindle the core connection with breathing and coordination that you developed as a baby.

A simple and effective starting point for training would be to lay on the floor with your knees bent, elbows at a right angle, hands beside your head on the floor. Exhale through your mouth while sliding your hands overhead, then inhale and slide your hands back down to their starting point. Repeat 5 times.

To make sure you’re breathing through your diaphragm, try putting a small weight (like a beanbag or paperweight) on your stomach, and feel your stomach expand when you inhale and shrink when you exhale. The weight should provide you with good feedback by making you more aware of your stomach. A variation on the first exercise would be: either standing or laying on your back, knees bent–breathe through your nose, rest your right hand in your lap or over your head on the floor, and hold on to the balloon with your left hand. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to blow up the balloon.

These easy exercises will help re-train your body to breathe from its center, the diaphragm.
We take up to 21,000 breaths a day, or about 8 million over the course of a year. When you do something that often, you want to get good at it.

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Should you take a calcium supplement?

I was recently asked about whether calcium and vitamin D supplements are helpful for bone health. What I like to say about supplements in general is this: They’re called supplements, not substitutes. Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet. More calcium will not necessarily help if you’re not getting the other nutrients necessary to make use of it. It will also not help very much if you’re consuming other things in your diet that actually hurt bone health.
I’ll give you an example of why, in my opinion, calcium is not as important for bone health as most people imagine. Americans eat much more calcium-rich dairy food like cheese and milk than most other countries, but we also have some of the highest incidence of bone disease in the world. People in Singapore, on the other hand, don’t eat very much dairy at all and eat a mostly plant-based diet, but they have a very low incidence of bone disease. How can that be?
One reason is that plants have plenty of minerals like calcium, so if you eat enough vegetables, you don’t necessarily need lots of dairy or calcium supplementation. Another reason is that in the U.S., we often eat an acidic diet. Our body likes to be at a neutral pH of 7, but when we consume something like a soda with a pH of 4, our digestive system needs to draw minerals out of our bodies to neutralize that acidity. Our bones are a “low-priority tissue” as far as our body is concerned, and they contain lots of minerals, so the body will leach those minerals from the bones to buffer the acid we’ve consumed.
So if calcium supplementation isn’t a magic bullet for bone health, what do you do? The best stuff for your bones is dark green vegetables, like kale and broccoli. These veggies have lots of calcium, and unlike supplements, they are whole foods, which means that they have everything your body needs to absorb and use the natural calcium in them.
If you take supplements, I recommend whole-food supplements like Spirulina. Drink plenty of water to help your body maintain its natural pH and replenish minerals–remember your bones are mostly water, too!
Another great way to strengthen your bones? Go for a walk! Any weight-bearing exercise is great for your bone strength.
So, should you take supplements? Maybe. But you should definitely eat plenty of green leafy veggies, and cut back or eliminate the soda!
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Rake in the benefits of physical exercise!

Summer is truly over, and fall has begun! A lot of people like to get in their outdoor activity to the times of year when it’s very warm and sunny outside, but I like to take lots of walks as the leaves fall and the air becomes crisp. There’s something that feels especially good about getting your muscles warm when there’s a little chill in the air.
One good (and unavoidable for many) way that many people get exercise in the fall is by raking leaves. For those of you lucky enough to have a yard full of trees, it’s a nice way to accomplish something while experiencing the season and getting some physical activity.
If you want to maximize the fitness benefits of raking for your body, make sure that you stretch the muscles in your body that are tight before and after raking. Also, people tend to rake while facing only one direction, depending upon the dominant side of their body. If you can, make sure that you swap sides from time to time while raking. Muscle imbalances can cause injury in the long run.
If you work a muscle on one side of a joint, but allow the muscle on the opposite side of that joint to weaken, the stronger muscle will pull the joint into a dysfunctional position, and the weaker muscle will allow it to be pulled. Take the time to prevent that by raking with both sides of your body.
Another unexpected way to prevent injury in day to day activities is to get plenty of sleep. Basic fatigue can cause you to alter your movement patterns in ways that promote injury.
Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water even if it’s a little chilly out. You still need it, and physical activity still increases the amount you need. Eat high quality food, and skip the Halloween candy!
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