The Connection Between Stress, Breathing, and Fat Burn

April is Stress Awareness month. Stress is defined as mental, emotional, or physical tension or strain that may factor in disease causation. And it is no secret that New Yorkers are stressed! Therefore, this month is dedicated to ensuring that our stress does not reach chronic levels, negatively impacting our quality of life and our health.

There are many ways to reduce stress.

  • It can be as simple as setting aside time for yourself, whether taking a walk in the park, seeing a movie, or simply enjoying a quiet cup of tea. It is important to make time for yourself.
  • Aerobic exercise is another excellent way to combat stress and lower levels of stress hormones in the body.
  • Another simple way to reduce stress is to adapt and react differently to stressful situations. Take a moment, breathe deeply and focus. You will be rewarded with a sense of control and calm.

The notion that breathing deeply aids stress relief is not a new idea. But what if I told you that breathing deeply or “whole-lung breathing” would not only reduce your level of stress, but also increase your fat-burning experience?

Whole-lung breathing boosts circulation, promotes muscle function by circulating oxygen and other nutrients to the body, expels carbon dioxide, creates more energy, increases the rate of metabolism, engages our abdominals, and consequently, helps us burn more fat.

The Breakdown:

Shallow, rapid breaths trigger the sympathetic stress receptors or the “fight-or-flight response,” which means you only use the upper part of your lungs. This sympathetic activity increases your heart rate, constricts blood vessels, and increases blood pressure. As a result, digestion slows down, stress-fighting hormones are released, damaging free radicals are produced, insulin levels increase, and fat is not only stored but blocked from being utilized as fuel.

On the contrary, learning to breathe deeply, using your diaphragm, expanding your lungs, engaging your abdominals, improving your lymphatic system, and activating your relaxation response or the “rest-and-digest response” (parasympathetic nervous system), teaches your body to respond to exercise as a fat-burning experience rather than a fat storing emergency.

Generally, when the intensity of an exercise goes up, the body burns more carbohydrates and less fat. When you learn to breathe deeply, you will be telling your body that exercise is not an emergency and that it’s okay to burn “non-emergency fuel”, i.e. fat.

So, how do you practice whole lung breathing?

  • Your Nose Knows Best. Breathe naturally through your nose rather than your mouth. Your nose has bone-shaped spirals (turbinates) that drive the air all the way to the lower lobes of your lungs. By nostril breathing, you filter the air you inhale, regulate your body temperature and help balance your blood’s levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
  • Start Small. Go for a moderate walk or run and breathe only through your nose. At first, your breath may feel shallow and tense but over time it will feel deeper, more relaxed, and centered.
  • 20 Step Goal. Count how many steps you can take for a full inhalation and exhalation. Start with 5 steps and work up to ~20 steps.
  • Engage the Abdominals and Lower Rib Cage. Breathing into the abdominals in addition to the chest, rib cage, and collarbones, will decrease stress in your shoulders, neck, and lower back.

Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD 

Originally posted on NYHRC Nutrition Tumblr

Adapted from John Douillard’s book: The 3-Season Diet: Eat the Way Nature Intended: Lose Weight, Beat Food Cravings, and Get Fit.
M Pick. Deep breathing — the truly essential exercise. Women to Women.  

Edited by: TCabrarr 

Photo: Courtesy of Mae Chevrette