Take A Breath: Here’s How Your Breathing Affects Gut Health

May 15, 2020

Having occasional upset tummy, bloating, or flatulence symptoms is pretty normal, and many people don’t even see a doctor for it. However, having to see a specialist in gastroenterology for symptoms like these probably mean it is adversely affecting your life. In addition to following doctor’s orders for treatments, what else can you do to improve your general gut health?

What if we told you that breathing can affect your gut health? It’s a relation that few people think about, but is in fact quite significant. Understanding the link between your breathing and your digestive system can be a tremendous breakthrough if you are seeking to improve your gut health.

Stress, breathing, & gut health

It’s popular knowledge that stress is a trigger for countless health issues. From headaches to asthma, stress can make it worse. That familiar anxiety, tight feeling, and restlessness we experience during a busy work-week, right before a test, or when faced with an emergency is accompanied by quick, shallow breathing, which isn’t ideal for our digestive system.

Shallow breathing occurs due to the fight or flight response, when adrenaline in the body kicks in. Breathing quickens to channel more oxygen to the muscles in preparation to attack or run – but the drawback is that blood flow to other systems, like the digestive system, becomes compromised.

As a result, prolonged or frequent periods of stress can interfere with the digestive system, hampering its normal functions, and increase the chances of inflammation. Overall, the immune system also weakens, and causes the body to be more vulnerable to various infections and illnesses.

Two ways to breathe

While stress is unavoidable – and even good for you at moderate levels – there are some ways you can teach your body to counter it.

To begin with, many people don’t breathe optimally to encourage deep breathing. Instead, they employ chest breathing, which is a shallow breathing method. As can be imagined, during times of stress, this breathing becomes even more shallow, and incurs more damage to health.

A better way to breathe will be to practice abdominal breathing. This is the natural breathing method of babies and people when asleep. Rather than having the chest move up and down when breathing, the motion engages the abdomen instead.

Abdominal breathing doesn’t just help our organs take in more oxygen for improved health; it also has a relaxing effect, which helps to chase off the feelings of stress and anxiety.

Tips for deep breathing

For those of us who have un-learnt how to breathe abdominally, you can pick it up again by practising regularly. Here’s how you can perform abdominal breathing:

1. Sit or lie down comfortably with one hand on your chest and another on your stomach.
2. Breathe in comfortably through your nose for two seconds, and let the air ‘enter’ your stomach. You should feel the hand on your stomach rising, and minimal movement for the hand on your chest.
3. Exhale slowly from your mouth for two seconds. You should feel the hand on your stomach lowering as your abdomen deflates.
4. Repeat for 10 minutes.

Getting started with abdominal breathing may feel weird if you are not used to it, but you will become more used to it as you practise. The good thing is, you can easily practise as you go about your day – while sitting in your commute to work, as you are watching TV, or as part of your cooling down routine after a work-out.

The effects of abdominal breathing will be well worth picking up this simple habit. In future, your body will be able to respond more calmly during moments of stress, and reduce the impacts to your gut health.