Bring Up Breathing—How We Get This Precious Oxygen in Our Blood

These last few days, I kept reading about the importance of staying active. Magazines and newspapers keep warning us over and over again about the danger of living a sedentary life. To avoid that constant threat, we are often not required to do much intense physical activity; we only need to move. When done regularly, yoga is one of those exercises that allow your body to remain at work. Still, its benefits extend far beyond its evident efficacy in keeping us toned. Yoga requires that its followers bring their consciousness back to their breathing. By inhaling and exhaling mindfully, they can check in and adjust their breathing rhythm if need be. When done purposefully and adequately, yoga can allow us to maximize oxygen absorption. However, this process is not so transparent for all of us, so let’s dive in even further.

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Breathing happens and, most of the time, we do not even realize it. It is one of the few mechanisms performed both consciously and unconsciously. Thus we often are driven to ignore that it is even there in the first place. Breathing is always present, always waiting to surface back into our consciousness. Possessing two different methods of regulation is a clear indication that both hold necessary functions for our survival. However, before we can attempt to explain them, we must first describe the fundamentals of breathing.

Breathing, also called ventilation, is a process that enables the exchange of carbon dioxide, produced by our metabolism, with oxygen readily available in the air. Although our atmosphere is composed mainly of nitrogen (78%), there is still a vast amount of oxygen (21%). To allow the transfer of this oxygen to our blood, we must first inhale. When I breathe, I often let air in through my mouth since my nose is frequently blocked. Even though both these orifices are good options to draw in air, some say that breathing through the nose is preferable. It seems that the nose with its filtration power can serve as the first line of defence against encountered pathogens.

Then, the oxygen makes its way to the lungs, where its transfer to the blood will occur via passive diffusion. Passive diffusion only means that the gas will move towards the lowest concentration sites without any help. In other words, the oxygen will move from our lungs to the blood. Not dissimilar to swimming in a river following the same direction as the current. The carbon dioxide will simultaneously be ejected from the blood into our lungs once again by passive diffusion.

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Our respiratory system has a fascinating structure that is reminiscent of an upside-down tree. Starting with the larynx (or the voice box) that forms the foot of the tree, the trachea would then be its trunk. The branches would be the bronchi and the leaves, the alveoli. However, there is one last structure that this analogy does not encompass, the pharynx. This organ serves to deliver food to the oesophagus and air to the larynx. The larynx will prevent food from entering the lungs. A little bit like a second nose, the trachea will purify, warm up and humidify the air before it reaches the lungs.

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The air will then get directed to the bronchi playing similar roles as mentioned for both the nose and the trachea. Moreover, its principal function is to guide the air to the alveoli. In the alveoli is where the gas exchange by passive diffusion will happen. Together, all these elements form a simplified image of the respiratory system. If we want to go deeper into the subject, we must talk about the ciliated cells scattered all around the nasal cavity (inside the nose), the trachea and the bronchi. Those ciliated cells, along with the mucus, are the ones that are responsible for filtering, warming up and humidifying the air. They accomplish this feat by directing the mucus, produced by some specialized tissue of the nasal cavity, towards the stomach. Once in the stomach, it is digested by gastric acid along with any potential pathogens.

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So if you ever wondered what was responsible for causing our runny nose during cold weather, the answer would be our ciliated cells. The chilling temperature slows down the speed at which the ciliated cells are working, thus causing a surplus of mucus in our nasal cavity. This event is then even further amplified by the water in the air we exhale. This gasified water tends to condensate in our nostrils at low temperatures forming water droplets.

The oxygen absorbed through the lungs will go to the red blood cells that were once carrying carbon dioxides. The exchange is a very lucrative business as it allows us to remove nearly 70% of our waste products while collecting a phenomenal amount of oxygen. All things considered, the efficacy of this system depends very strongly on internal cues. Physiological messengers, like hormones, or signals can alter the speed and the volume of our breathing. This modulation is the one to blame for the huffing and puffing we do after climbing up a steep hill. I just went for a nice walk this afternoon, and I have unfortunately come to realize that my cardiovascular system is no longer as efficient as it once was. Anyhow, my walk, or any physical activities for the matter, recruits muscles. To activate those muscles produces a lot of waste, like carbon dioxide for one.

When carbon dioxide accumulates in our body, it creates acid. Chemoreceptors then perceive this change alerting our respiratory system to work harder. We need to expel this gas while recruiting more oxygen, as we require oxygen for energy (ATP) production. But physical activities are not the only elements that can alter your breathing; anxiety can do that too. This effect is the result of stress hormones, catecholamines and corticosteroids. The former will produce more rapid breathing to adapt to the sudden requirement for energy supply. The latter will do the opposite; slow down the breathing while also making it more shallow.

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So when I catch myself stuck in a sudden wave of anxiety, I try to remember to breathe deeply (also called diaphragmatic breathing). Doing this exercise allows our breathing to come back to its regular rhythm by compressing the diaphragm. Squeezing the diaphragm leads to the activation of the parasympathetic system, causing an effect of general relaxation. The diaphragm is a muscle confined under the lungs and is also the one engaged in our sporadic hiccups. The hiccups are a product of the diaphragm contracting out of rhythm. The closing of the larynx and the vocal cords follow each spasm, which can cause the sounds we may hear. The most plausible role of the hiccups is to create a sharp intake of air in the lungs in between two breaths. This extra effort draws in more air than regular breathing.

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There are two main strategies to stop the course of hiccups. Either putting cold items in your mouth (like gargling cold water or sucking on an ice cube) or increasing the level of carbon dioxide inhaled (breathing from a bag or holding our breath). I prefer taking a deep breath and holding it in. It works every time. What more about breathing can I say? Breathing in itself might be easy, but controlling it is another thing. If you don’t pay enough attention to it, it will positively fall into its default mechanism of autonomous functioning, and you might not like the outcome. As a word of advice, a regular breathing check-in cannot hurt, and you should probably do it as often as you can afford.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

No one can dismiss the amazing feeling we get after spending some time in nature. We instantly feel relaxed and reinvigorated. Some might attribute this effect to time spent far away from work, and even though they could be correct, it is not the whole picture. Biophilia is a relatively new concept that brought the…

Bring Up Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

Good evening my dearest followers, Please, take a moment to enjoy this excerpt for my newest post (Bring Up Blood). We could most certainly not live without blood. It is absolutely essential for the survival of our most distant limbs and organs. Even though almost all of our respiration is thanks to our respiratory organs,…

Bring Up Fat—Why I Am Getting Chubbier

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As we grow old, our bodies change enormously. Our skin seems to get drier or, at least, more sensitive. Our hearing steadily decreases, and our overall strength diminishes (that uniquely happens if we stop exercising sufficiently). I had no difficulties believing any of the above, and I knew that all these things would one day happen to me. However, I am pretty stubborn. I could not admit that one day my body would start abruptly gaining weight. This resistance was a product of my childhood. As a child and as a teenager, I struggled with what was considered a drastically low body weight. Other children and teenagers would seek to humiliate me by spreading lies about my weight. They would tell their comrades that I was anorexic and therefore disgusting. The truth was that I never, thankfully, suffered from any eating disorders. Not then and not now.

From what I understand, I had a fantastic metabolism, which allowed me to eat whatever I wanted without my body having to store it. Two elements could explain why this was the case; either the tremendous level of activity that I had to maintain or my chronic anxiety. My mother, seeking all possible relief from our sometimes overbearing presence, insisted that my sisters and I went outdoors right after completing our homeworks. We were only allowed back inside at sunset, when it was time for us to go to bed. During the weekend, we spent most, if not all, of our time outside. Fortunately, I had sisters to keep me company, and we would keep each other entertained through games and simulated adventures. Being considered the most responsible one (I was deemed the oldest, despite having a twin sister) was often a burden I had to carry. Over time, anxiety finally got its hold over me.

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All that said, I seemed incapable of developing any fat. Not only was my classmates’ harassment pushing me to try gaining some weight, but also my family physician tried encouraging me to do so. I honestly couldn’t manage it. I concluded that I would never be able to change anything about this and not even through ageing. After high school years were over, my slim figure started attracting a different kind of attention. This change got me to begin making peace with my appearance. I was then confident enough to get my first boyfriend; I was 18 years old. It sadly didn’t last. I sincerely believe, in hindsight, that the only thing he was after was my physical appearance. A similar situation happened with the second boyfriend, which led me to adopt a no romantic relationship rule. I was despising the attention I was getting from men and women. Men, indeed, were attracted by my appearance but couldn’t care about my feelings. As for the women, they were starting rumours about me saying that I was a very loose woman and without honour.

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I then had a newly acquired mission and determination. I had to gain weight. To do that, I stopped all the physical activities I was doing (Volleyball, Ultimate Frisbee, Dancing, Running and Working out). All that while maintaining the same food intake. Little did I know that this mission would be way easier to accomplish than I thought. In only the span of two years, I had gained 22.5 kg (50 lbs) in fat. However, for the first time ever, I was okay with my appearance. I was beginning a relationship with a fantastic man, and he was accepting me, not for my looks, but for my personality and my wits. As such, my weight stayed more or less stable for the next six years. Only recently did I realize that my health was beginning to suffer from this excess mass. I knew I had to gain muscle mass and reduce the sheer amount of fat I had accumulated so far.

I knew that I had to pick up physical activity back again. I had to start burning more energy than I was consuming, which would kick-start ketosis. Ketosis would allow me to transform this fat into ketones bodies which I could use as an energy source. However, two years ago, being active was truthfully tricky to implement since I was suffering from chronic muscular pain disorder. The stress on my joints created from my excess weight was beginning to hurt me, which again brings me to the importance of losing weight. I then started intermittent fasting, which also activates ketosis. With intermittent fasting only, I succeeded in losing approximately 11 kg (25 lbs), which allowed me to be active once again. I started taking regular walks and working to further my improvement, but I know that all this is a work in progress. Dropping everything now would mean having to start everything all over again next month.

Fat cells are also referred to as adipocytes and can live up to ten years. This statement means that they can hold the memory of their characteristics for a very long time. Thus, cells that have been massive for a very long time will try their best to stay this way. So you really have to keep watch over your food intake and physical activity for a good ten years. Otherwise, the product of all your hard work would disappear faster than you can possibly imagine. Although, many other characteristics may be desirable in fat cells, like their type (determined by their colour). In all three types, the cells holding a brown colouration (brown adipocytes) are more beneficial. Mainly present in newborns, these cells are essentially responsible for producing heat instead of storing fat, like the white adipocytes. However, most adults possess these white adipocytes, which make us more prone to accumulating fat. Here, not all hope is lost since there are ways to change white adipocytes into beige adipocytes, which share some common attributes observed in brown adipocytes.

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These adipocytes’ colour modification is also called cell “browning.” You can achieve such change by either repeated exposure to cold or exercise. As for the exposure to cold, the temperature that we are exposing ourselves to does not need to be extreme. It barely needs enough chilling power to engage our body to start producing heat. So reducing our ambient room temperature to a few degrees can be sufficient, or going outside on a chilly day for a quick walk can also do the trick. Personally, I started dressing up more lightly when I am at home, which is somewhat of a big deal since I am oversensitive to cold. I am always used to dressing up super warmly. For example, I typically wear sweaters even during summer. As for exercise, any moderate activity can do. I sporadically practise yoga. I regularly walk and work out. Occasionally, I treat myself with the opportunity to go hiking.

Besides helping with fat “browning,” exercise also helps to isolate adipocytes to the parietal region. This region refers to mainly what is attached to the skin. Fat cells nearing organs (visceral fat) are especially threatening. They significantly increase the risk of developing the following: heart attack, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Additional recommendations to keep this balance in check would be to adopt a better diet and integrate stress management techniques into our lifestyle. An adequate diet should include healthy food with low levels of transformation, and it should be well balanced. We should avoid all products containing highly processed (refined) sugar. We should opt for leaner meat and introduce fish in our feeding habits. Stress management techniques could include, but are not limited to, yoga and meditation. Both these techniques should help keep stress hormones, like corticosteroids, in check as they are known to increase visceral fat accumulation.

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Just remember that it does not matter how hard we all try; we all must keep a certain percentage of fat in our bodies. Actually, on average, fat will account for 15% of the men’s total mass and 22% of the women’s total mass. This percentage can even rise to 50% without the person being considered morbidly obese. Still, muscle cells weigh more than adipocytes when comparing their respective density. The density of muscle cells is 1.1 g/mL compared to 0.9 g/mL for adipocytes. That should explain why we seem to plateau after a while of working out regularly. We may not stop losing fat but instead gaining a massive amount of muscle.

Fun fact: The only place where we will never accumulate fat is in our eyelids.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Tattoo—How it can be possible to mark our skin permanently

Not all appearance alterations are created equal; some may be more short-lived and others more permanent. If you think of tattoos, they mostly belong to the second category. So thinking carefully about certain aspects of the tattoo becomes imperative. Things like the symbolism or the artistry behind your new piece shouldn’t be random. Choosing a…

Bring Up Grad School—What Is the Reality Behind Higher Education

For people who want to pursue studies after completing high school, university studies may look very attractive. So, undergraduate studies may lead to graduate studies. However, undergraduate studies are not the same as graduate studies. The latter is not only more complicated, but it is also very different. First of all, contrary to your undergrad,…