Health enthusiasts are typically well aware of the importance of choosing nutrient-rich foods for fuel. And rightly so. You need healthy nutrients to create energy to fuel your daily activities.
But it's worth remembering that nutrients on their own do not create energy in your body.
At a cellular level, your organelles create energy by combining nutrients with oxygen.
The formula, you may remember from grade seven science class, goes like this: Glucose + Oxygen = ATP (Energy) + Carbon dioxide
This fundamental, life-sustaining equation highlights the incredibly important role that your lungs play in keeping you well.
It's at the very finest branches of tissue that line the base of your lungs where your body accepts oxygen from your environment and expels carbon dioxide.
In order for you to maintain your health and recover from any type of illness, you need a steady supply of oxygen entering your blood. You also need to continuously push carbon dioxide out of your circulation, as carbon dioxide competes with oxygen to be carried (by hemoglobin) throughout your circulatory system.
So what must you do to ensure optimal gas exchange within your lungs?
First, you need to be around fresh air. This means being outdoors often, and when you're indoors for long stretches at a time, you should try to crack open a couple of windows whenever possible. Or at the very least, ensure that the ventilation system that controls the air quality in your work and living spaces is functioning properly - this includes making sure that furnace filters are replaced regularly.
It also means that while you sleep, when the weather permits, you should crack open a window so that your lungs are exposed to a steady stream of fresh oxygen, and that the air in your room doesn't get dominated by carbon dioxide.
Second, you need to be mindful of how well you're breathing. Respiratory rate - the number of cycles of inhalation and exhalation you experience per minute, is affected by a few different factors.
Emotional stress tends to promote shallow breathing. So being mindful of your emotional state and making a habit of taking purposeful, deep breaths in and out as often as possible make for a concrete strategy to ensure optimal intake of oxygen and elimination of carbon dioxide.
An oft overlooked determinant of respiratory rate is how healthy your spine and surrounding joints are. Together, your spine, ribcage, and sternum (breast bone) form a protective case that surrounds your heart and your lungs. At every single point of contact between your ribs and your spine and breast bone, there is some joint play - that is, built-in room to move, not a lot, but enough to allow for optimal expansion of your lungs as you breathe in.
Also, from rib to rib, you have cartilage that helps keep your ribs in place, but that also provides just enough give to allow your ribs to slightly expand and contract as your breathe.
Over time, chronic stress, lack of exercise, and lack of mindful breathing can cause all of these moving parts to become somewhat brittle and unable to provide the joint play that is essential to helping you breathe optimally.
This is one of the reasons why regular stretching of your spine, ribcage, and surrounding tissues is important to your health. By keeping all of these joints moving properly, you ensure that you have the physical capacity to fill your lungs with ample amounts of oxygen throughout the day and night.
How can you safely and effectively stretch your spine, ribcage, and the surrounding ligaments and muscles? I recommend the following posts for guidance:
- Dr. Ben Kim 11/29/2010 - How To Stretch Your Lumbar And Thoracic Spinal Regions
- Dr. Ben Kim 11/26/2010 - Two Stretches To Keep Your Back Healthy
- Dr. Ben Kim 3/15/2011 - Stretches To Keep Your Spine Healthy
Beyond stretching these areas, please remember the importance of mindfully breathing in and out throughout the day - this seemingly trivial habit can be immensely helpful to your health.
Please consider sharing these tips with family and friends who aren't aware of this determinant of health.