Breathing, Muscles and the Mind - The Tools of Fitness Pt. 1

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Almost all grownups know what their pulse rate is, but very few people know their breathing rate.  Do you know how many breaths you take per minute?  In my work I often ask people who have anxiety-related shortness of breath, hyperventilation, or other breathing problems, "How many breaths do you take per minute?"   This includes the time  when you are sitting or lying down and doing nothing.  A typical answer I receive to my question is, "I don't know.  I never paid any attention to it."  It's not just the anxiety patients, we all tend to be non-conscious of a function which is most vital for sustaining life.  We trust our body to take care of such matters without our personal involvement.     

 It is important to keep track of your "vital statistics,"  including your pulse rate,  your breathing rate and your walking or jogging pace.  Don't wait for a medical office to do it for you.  These are simple things to keep track of.  For example, for pulse rate and breathing rate all you need is a wrist watch, a total of two minutes at your disposal, a minute-long attention span, and there you have a reference point for your pulse and breathing rate.  Record your pulse and breathing rate in various situations.  For example, take readings when you exercise and rest.  Record your pulse and breathing rate when you are relaxed, angry, or worried.  Some complain that that they can't concentrate for one whole minute.  Measure it for 30 seconds or even 15 seconds, and multiply it accordingly.   

 In part I of "Breathing, Muscles, and Mind   " I referred to the treadmill test that determines a person's oxygen consumption rate.  Unfortunately, treadmill tests are too expensive to be a part of  our regular medical check-up.   For most of us the test is done only after we have developed a serious illness.  Instead of waiting for a treadmill test, we can do an "aerobic test."  This aerobic test is your free home-testing available to you at all times.  Determine your walking or jogging pace that you can maintain without becoming breathless.  If you are out of practice for jogging or have a physical disorder, just do the walking pace test.  

 Find some level ground about a mile long to walk.  To determine the mile-length, drive and measure it with your odometer.  If you don't have any level ground in your neighborhood, go to the nearest high school where they have a level track.  If you go around the track four times, you have walked a mile.  You're now almost ready, but don't walk yet.  Bring a friend with you to walk with you.  Ask your friend to walk with you and let you do all the talking.  Walk as fast as you can but still maintaining your ability to talk.  If you become breathless and are unable to talk, slow down until you have developed a nice pace of talking and walking at the maximum speed that is possible for you.  When you gain that pace, time yourself and walk for a mile.  This is your "walking aerobic pace."  Record it so it can serve as a reference point for you.  This will tell you how much progress you make in your personal fitness program. 

 People who are otherwise fit but ten pounds over their ideal height-frame-age chart, will usually walk a leveled mile in about twelve to fourteen minutes.   People who are 40-pound overweight may do the same in about twenty to twenty-five minutes.   Marathon runners do the same in about five minutes.  I cite these figures so you can see where you fall on this scale of aerobic pace.

 If we just monitor our pulse, breathing, and walking pace and watch what we eat, we can dramatically reduce our suffering and medical expenses.  In spite of medical breakthroughs every day, one of two will die of heart attack and one out of three will die of cancer.  Sixty million Americans have high blood pressure.  Fifty- six million have high cholesterol.  Twenty million Americans are stroke victims.  At the turn of the century, the incidence of adult-onset diabetes was small.  It was nowhere near the rate we have now.  We now have thirteen million victims of adult-onset diabetes.   Some blame sugar for the rise in the incidence of adult-onset of diabetes.  

 At the turn of the century, Americans on average consumed three pounds of sugar every year, and now we consume a whopping 170 pounds a year.   Lifestyle, environment, food, emotions, stress, and exercise rather than bacteria and viruses play a critical role in all the diseases I mentioned above.  

  A lot of the people who exercise regard it as a purely physical fitness program.  It is sad that so many of us exercise without involving our mind into the act.  Exercise with awareness is likely to be more beneficial.  Beside being mindful, visualize when you exercise.  Visualizing the shape for the parts of the body  you are targeting is like steering the ship according to a map rather than letting it drift into the wide ocean.  You have greater flexibility and control when you internally feel the muscles while stretching them.  Mentally rehearse before you actually exercise.  For example, if you imagine bending and touching your toes, you will have a much easier time when you actually bend and touch your toes.  It is like your mind has paved the way for your body to take a "cake walk."  

 Awareness of physical fitness has expanded in the Eighties and the Nineties.  However, we still have not recognized the need for mental fitness and mental exercise.  The brain too is like a muscle.  If you exercise it, it keeps on strengthening.  As we grow older, we do less and less of any kind of mental gymnastics.  You keep learning new information and skills to stay mentally fit.                      

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



Click for Dr. Sharma's credentials
Dr. Vijai Sharma
Your Life Coach
By Telephone

Feedback- Let us know how we are doing

Terms and Conditions

Web site designed and maintained by Chanda Taylor