These days so many of us are living under such regular, often unrelenting, stress that we stop recognizing it for what it is. One outcome of this is that after we exercise aerobically and our respiration rate and pulse have spiked, we don’t reflexively know that we need to calm down and re-set our breathing back to its relaxed state. It’s just as important as cooling down our muscles after a workout!
This is an important practice to counter a chronic pattern of over-breathing endemic in our society, where the body assumes an emergency stance all the time that is unnecessary and unhealthy long-term.
So here’s a workout and post-exercise routine to monitor your respiration rate and volume via the pulse, since they typically correlate. People with stressful jobs like paramedics, nurses and police officers might also consider doing something like this at the end of their shifts to move their bodies into the rest-and-relax state of the nervous system.
- Before you exercise take your pulse. (I use a phone app, holding my finger over the camera lens.)
- At the peak of exertion, take your pulse again.
- Do your regular cool-down routine, concentrating on relaxing your breathing as well as your muscles, and take your pulse again.
- If your pulse is still elevated from where you started, breathing cool-down practices can include breathing more gently than usual, taking short 1-2 second breath holds every couple breaths after the exhale, or taking longer exhales.
These breathing cool-down strategies can be done while you’re in the shower, getting dressed after changing, or even driving to your next destination. After some period, take your pulse again and see where it is in relation to where you started. If it’s within 5 points, I’m typically satisfied but I may take it later in the day to check again.
Now sometimes I forget to take my pulse before the workout, but I know the resting rate is usually below 70, so I’ll do all the other steps anyway with that as a guide. Get to know your baseline numbers.
You don’t have to do this perfectly. The point is that people who don’t do it at all can create a dysfunctional breathing pattern by exercising a lot, not calming their breathing, and then breathing at the same accelerated rate as when they were exercising all day afterward. It looks like heavy breathing, gasping even, while sitting at a desk or in bed! It’s a setup for an around-the-clock, chronic stress-inducing, mouth-breathing habit.
Healthy breathing involves breathing the correct amount of air for the current activity you’re engaged in. Breathing retraining creates new habits so you’re breathing more reflexively over time at the correct rate to meet your metabolic needs in the moment.