Restorative Effects of Deep Breathing for Seniors

Dec 7th, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

We senior citizens are never too old to learn from the experiences of children.  When my son was eight years old, he faced major surgery with a deathly fear of injections. He wasn’t concerned about getting ‘cut on’ or any other aspects of the procedure; he was just terrified of having to get a shot.  I told him some shots and pricks couldn’t be avoided, but those related to pain control could be minimized by managing his pain with deep breathing.  This little boy learned how to breathe to manage his pain, and to this day, that’s his primary means of dealing with discomfort. 

Research now shows us that breathing exercises can have a major effect not only on pain, but also blood pressure, disease and the physiological stress response.  The body has a built-in helpful response to stress, that phenomenon we know as ‘fight or flight’.  Chemical reactions in the body prepare us to fight an enemy or flee from it.  In fact, now we know that conscious breathing in specific ways, reduces the chemical reactions, changes blood chemistry and blood pressure, and draws the body to a healthier state of being.

Esther Sternberg, physician and author of several books on stress said, “The relaxation response is controlled by another set of nerves — the main nerve being the Vagus nerve. Think of a car throttling down the highway at 120 miles an hour. That’s the stress response, and the Vagus nerve is the brake.  When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor. When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.”

Learning to do slow deep breathing is easy.  There are numerous online sites with step-by-step directions.  Books have been written about deep breathing exercises, including many Yoga principles.  You can attend classes in Yoga and other stress-reducing practices that teach effective breathing for symptom and disease management.  Whatever means you choose, learning how to breathe to better manage daily life  in your senior years can do nothing but add health and vitality to your days.



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