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October is Respiratory Care Month!

“We must learn to let things flow just like breath, and life will do the rest.”


Iyanla Vanzant



Fall

October is my favorite month. A true New Englander, I love the changes of leaves, hot apple cider, and breaking out my sweaters and scarves. The change of weather can increase the need for respiratory care as we transition from the autumn to winter season. Although this month is packed with several health topics that are all deserving of the spotlight including breast cancer awareness (please see October 2020 blog post for details and information) I decided to focus on respiratory health, given the state of the world that continues to battle a highly contagious respiratory disease. As with any new diet path or exercise regime, please consult your doctor first to see if any of these suggestions are right for you.

The Art Of Breathing

Did you know that there are 7 organs involved with the respiratory system?! The process in a nutshell is that our lungs take in oxygen which is necessary for every cell in the body to work properly and to break down sugars (glucose). The glucose in the cells creates the energy we need to function. When we exhale, carbon dioxide is released as a waste product which comes from carbon in the foods we eat including carbohydrates, proteins and fat. (For more information about macro and micro nutrients, please see my blog post from February). The picture below gives you a clear visual of where everything is located in the body so no guessing is needed to see how they are all connected.

Upper Respiratory Tract:

  • Nose

  • Nasal cavity

  • Sinuses

  • Larynx

  • Trachea

Lower Respiratory Tract:

  • Lungs

  • Bronchi and bronchioles

  • Air sacs (alveoli)



Exercise

I know you always see the word “Exercise” in almost every post I write and are rolling your eyes right about now. There is a reason I have to repeat myself and that's because moving your body is so good for you on a cellular level and it can affect many aspects from weight loss and reducing heart attacks and stroke to improving fitness, flexibility and strength. Even sleep, emotional health and memory enhancement can improve with moderate levels of daily exercise.

You may be wondering why exercise is good for your lungs and breathing, especially if you find that any type of exercise wears you out quickly and that you need to rest often.....perhaps even before you are done exercising, which can be frustrating. Heavy breathing when exercising causes you to produce carbon dioxide faster and increases the need to get it out of your body in order to make room for more oxygen.

As the need for more oxygen occurs, you breathe more heavily and that means your heart and lungs need to work harder. The heart is a muscular organ and like your arms for example, the more you work them out safely and effectively, the stronger and more defined they become.

The heart and lungs work the same way, although instead of seeing the results in a new tank top, you’ll feel the results with every breath and step you take. As you continue with your exercise of choice be it walking, jogging, yoga or whatever it is you prefer to do, your fitness level and overall health will improve, including your stamina and lung capacity.

Nutrition and Respiratory Health

Would you be surprised if I told you your diet can impact your breathing? It sure can, and metabolism does play a role. Your metabolism involves many chemical processes in the body but the main takeaway is that it provides you with the energy from the food you eat that allows for big internal jobs like cellular repair and digestion. This energy also provides you with the ability to walk, run, talk and yep...even breath.

Carbohydrates produce the greatest amount of carbon dioxide in the body. Proteins produce the second most and then lastly, fats. The greater the amount of CO2 in the lungs, the more difficult it may be to breathe, especially for people who suffer from lung issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Adjusting dietary intake and reducing the amount of carbs while increasing proteins and healthy fats could potentially relieve some respiratory difficulty and improve your overall health.

Several studies have shown that people with COPD who follow the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet have lower carbon dioxide output than those who consume carbohydrates regularly. You can check out a recent peer reviewed article HERE.

Diets typically include: grass-fed beef, poultry, eggs, salmon, mackerel and sardines, and complex carbohydrates including oats, lentils and potatoes with the skins.


Avocados, tomatoes, bananas, and oranges in addition to a variety of fruits and vegetables are also important components of a healthy diet due to their higher Potassium content which is an important mineral in lung function.


Now I’m not suggesting that everyone who has just eaten a sandwich or a few slices of pizza will have a hard time breathing...it’s directed more for people with lung or respiratory disorders such as asthma and COPD that may find relief. BUT, it doesn't hurt to try a diet with a higher fruit and vegetable count. Even if respiratory issues do not apply to you, you may still reap numerable benefits such as weight loss, lower blood pressure/cholesterol and digestion improvement.

The DASH Diet and The Mediterranean Diet are both great choices if you are looking to improve your overall health starting with a new dietary path. You can read more about each diet by clicking on the hyperlinks above.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Your diaphragm is a muscle at the base of your lungs that helps you breathe. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts which increases space in your chest, allowing your lungs to expand. When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and flattens out as air is forced out of the lungs.

If you have COPD, air can get trapped in the lungs and press the diaphragm down, possibly weakening it and decreasing proper utilization. A method of breathing called “diaphragmatic breathing” could be very useful in retraining your body how to use the full breath and strengthen your diaphragm and decrease oxygen demand and the added energy needed to breathe.

To be clear, this method of breathing is not just reserved for people who suffer from respiratory conditions. Anyones can do it and I recommend it to everyone. It has so many benefits including lowering your heart rate and allowing you to drop into your body and remind you of the present moment. It has a body, mind, spirit connection that way. I also return to my breath if I am in a frustrating situation and I need a quick moment to ground myself. The use of the breath allows me to think about what I want to say in order to be productive and positive instead of letting my emotions drive the dialogue and possibly make the situation worse. Let’s get into how this works!


Steps to Diaphragmatic Breathing:

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface (or in bed) with your knees bent. You can use a pillow under your head and your knees for support, if that's more comfortable.

  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.

  • Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.

(Diaphragmatic breathing exercises & techniques. Cleveland Clinic. n.d.).

Once you get used to practicing diaphragmatic breathing while lying down, you might want to try this sitting in a chair, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed. Practice for 5 to 10 minutes, 3-4 times a day if possible. If that’s too much time, no worries. Even 1 minute of diaphragmatic breathing will be helpful

As with any new exercise regime, you may get tired fast at first. This is normal and not an excuse to give up. Be patient and stick with it. You will begin to notice how your breath is fuller and easier to pull it air than the day you started. The diaphragm is muscle and needs time to strengthen...but it will. Slow deep breathes in and out...you got this!


It’s Always A Great Time To Quit Smoking

We are all aware that smoking has nothing to do with improving health, nutrition and respiratory issues. But knowing the facts doesn’t make quitting any easier. It’s true that smoking is the most preventable disease across the globe and is the direct cause of over 480,000 lives in the U.S. alone each year.

I posted the following bullet points below in last month's blog which bears repeating now. See all the health improvements that take place shortly after you quit smoking.

  • After the first 20 minutes: your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the nicotine-induced spikes.

  • After 12 hours: the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal.

  • After two weeks: your circulation and lung function begin to improve.

  • After one to nine months: clear and deeper breathing gradually returns; you have less coughing and shortness of breath; you regain the ability to cough productively instead of hacking, which cleans your lungs and reduces your risk of infection.

  • After one year: your risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by 50 percent.

If you would like more information please click HERE for additional resources if you are looking to quit smoking.

(The benefits of quitting smoking now. www.heart.org. n.d.).


This may seem like a lot but….start with a small practice utilizing what immediately resonates with you. One day at a time, do what you can, don’t beat yourself up if you have to skip your walk or give in to a craving or if you're having a hard time giving up cigarettes. Change is hard and even if you're just thinking about it, you are already on your way. If you get frustrated and need a minute...just breathe. And Remember….Health starts from the inside out….but also from the ground up!


To discuss more detailed information regarding the topics within this blog, or to inquire about customized nutrition plans, please reach out to Cathleen Winter at cathleen@wellnesswithincw.com


A Little About Me

My name is Mary DeBlasio, and I live in Silver Spring, MD. I recently graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in May of 2021. I am very interested in mindful eating, and foods that correlate with the seasons. My goal after graduation is to pursue a dietetic internship with a focus on clinical dietetics. I would like to concentrate on patients suffering from gastrointestinal issues. All my information is backed by credible sources cited within the blog.


Sources

Anatomy of the respiratory system. Anatomy of the Respiratory System - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=85&contentid=p01300

Diaphragmatic breathing exercises & techniques. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9445-diaphragmatic-breathing

Exercise and lung health. American Lung Association. (n.d.).

Learning diaphragmatic breathing. Harvard Health. (2016, March 10).

Norwitz, N. G., Winwood, R., Stubbs, B. J., D'Agostino, D. P., & Barnes, P. J. (2021). Case report: Ketogenic diet is associated with improvements in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Frontiers in Medicine, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmed.2021.699427

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). How the lungs work. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.





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