I talk a lot about exercise technique, adherence, etc., but life begins with a breath of air. Breathing is one of our body’s primal rhythms, along with heart beat and blood flow. Breathing is the single, most important activity you can do.

As a society we are chest breathers. We don’t start out that way-look at any infant or cat or dog and you will see how we should be breathing. The belly should rise and fall with each breath, using the diaphragm properly. When you breathe this way, you should notice your body relax and flow like it should. Proper breathing massages all of your internal organs, and as an added benefit you strengthen your abdominal muscles with each exhalation. Adults breathe 15,000-20,000 times per day, so think of what a great ab workout you can get by doing something you have to do anyway. I can only see pluses.

Most of us chest breathe. We learn vanity at a young age, and in this case it’s very unproductive. We don’t want our bellies out-the army says chest out, stomach in, women don’t want to “pooch out”, so we learn early on to breathe through the chest. As the chest expands the back becomes the primary support system. As chest breathers we have a tendency to hold our breath during exertion, putting force on the back, resulting in overload. We need to revert to how we breathed as babies, which is from the abdominals. When we do this, the back becomes a secondary source of power, strengthening the abs as the primary workers.

Learn to exhale forcefully when exerting force, whether you are lifting a bag of trash, unloading the dishwasher, hitting a golf or tennis ball-you’ll have much more power and will protect your back.

As an easy exercise, ly on your back and place a hand on you stomach, the other on your chest. As you inhale, try to make the hand on your belly rise toward the ceiling-the hand on your chest should not move. At first it may not seem easy-within a week you will notice that it is much easier. Then try the same exercise in a sitting or standing position. Retrain your breathing, it will pay you huge dividends.

Stay well, John R. Blilie, M.S.