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How your Breathing Habits can affect your Menopause

Our breathing affects every physiological system in our body and is inextricably linked to our mental state. Therefore, our daily breathing patterns will have an impact on our body and mind during the peri to post menopause years, but most women are unaware of this. In fact, most people are unaware of how they breathe on a daily basis as it is an automatic function that we do without thinking. We take about 25,000 breaths each day and a large percentage of the population probably have some element of dysfunctional breathing.

The Peri- to Post-Menopause Transition

When a woman reaches Peri-menopause, her sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) start fluctuating and declining over a number of years. Periods may become erratic and less frequent, and after 12 months of no periods, a woman reaches menopause and after that date is post-menopausal. In the UK, the average age to start the peri-menopause is 45 years and to reach menopause is 51 years.

Fluctuating and declining hormones can cause many unpleasant symptoms for a number of years. There are over 30 different symptoms a woman can experience, and no two women will have the same symptoms or same severity of symptoms and some women experience very few symptoms. Common symptoms include anxiety, elevated stress levels, fatigue, mood swings, brain fog (poor memory, difficulty concentrating), disrupted sleep/insomnia, hot flushes, digestive problems, joint pain, hair loss, and many more.

Dysfunctional Breathing

It may surprise you to know that dysfunctional breathing habits alone can cause or exacerbate a lot of the above symptoms in anyone, irrespective of gender or age. So if a woman has some dysfunctional breathing patterns when entering the peri-menopause phase, this could worsen some her hormonal symptoms, or even be the cause rather than hormones.

The most common forms of dysfunctional breathing include:

  • "over breathing", through the mouth or nose, which causes an imbalance in our blood gases (low levels of carbon dioxide)

  • incorrect biomechanics, where people do not use their diaphragm fully but use auxiliary muscles (their upper chest and neck muscles) not designed to take 25,000 breaths a day

  • fast respiratory rate (poor gas exchange)

  • mouth breathing during rest/physical activity

  • sleep disordered breathing (mouth breathing, snoring, sleep apnea)

Dysfunctional Breathing Symptoms

Dysfunctional breathing patterns can send a message from the body to the brain saying "I do not feel safe" and this triggers the Sympathetic Nervous System which is our fight or flight response to a 'perceived danger'. If we have developed poor breathing patterns that create this response, it can cause or exacerbate stress levels and feelings of anxiety and panic and we can get stuck in "flight or flight" mode.

This can also affect the quality of our sleep and the restorative processes that happen during this time. To fully rest, digest, restore, and detox properly, all of which happen when we sleep, our body and mind needs to be in a down regulated state where the Parasympathetic branch of the nervous system is more dominant. Mouth, fast, and/or upper chest breathing can disrupt this. It can also constrict our blood vessels and increase our heart rate and blood pressure.

Over breathing upsets the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood which can affect our energy levels, our ability to focus and concentrate and how breathless we become during physical exercise. Our perception of pain can be heightened as well.

The diaphragm is our main breathing muscle, but it is also a spinal stabiliser and part of our core. It works in tandem with the pelvic floor muscles, so if it is not used properly, women can experience pelvic floor problems and vice versa.

So some of the symptoms menopausal women experience can be experienced by anyone due to dysfunctional breathing patterns.

Functional Breathing Training

As a breathing coach, I use science-based breathing assessments and exercises to improve women's breathing. I help women become aware of their current breathing patterns and how this may be impacting their menopause transition. I use various assessments to test their breathing efficiency and these give us baseline measurements so we can track progress over time.

We work on improving their daily functional breathing habits (including during sleep), which involves learning to breathe lighter, slower and deeper and to work on their carbon dioxide tolerance. This helps to restore balance to their Autonomic Nervous System, respiratory biochemistry and to use correct breathing biomechanics to calm the mind and optimise oxygen uptake and delivery to all the cells in the body.

Breathing Exercises for the Menopause

Improving a woman's daily breathing habits can have dramatic effects on their physiology and mental state, but we can also use specific breathing exercises as a tool to reduce menopausal symptoms when they occur.

A study in 2012 found that women who practiced paced breathing for 10 minutes twice a day experienced a 52% reduction in hot flushes, and those who practiced once a day for 10 minutes experienced a 42% reduction in these symptoms.

There are a number of breathing exercises that can help alleviate menopausal symptoms, so if you were not aware of how breathing can impact your menopause, and you think your breathing habits may not be optimal and would like to know more, book a free Discovery Call or email Marianne for more info.

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