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Everyone at one point or another has done something that required a good deal of exertion on their part, whether it was lifting, pushing or pulling a heavy object. Without thinking, most would typically perform something called the Valsalva maneuver prior to carrying out the task. The Valsalva maneuver is attempting to forcibly exhale while keeping your airways, both nose and mouth, closed. Simply put, it is when you hold your breath while performing a difficult task. Often times we hear “make sure you breathe out” during exercise when we push, pull, lift, balance or any other activity and we hear it for good reason!
There are several changes that occur in our bodies when we perform the Valsalva maneuver. First, the pressure inside the chest rises, which pushes blood circulation out of the path to the lungs and makes it more difficult for blood to return to the heart from the rest of the body. This in turn causes your heart to beat faster and blood pressure to increase. There are also other changes that may occur with the maneuver such as floaters in the field of vision, urine leakage or a “popping” of ears as pressure in the inner ear normalizes. These changes can have more serious effects for individuals who have heart or circulatory conditions, but it is always best to continue breathing during exercise to avoid the Valsalva maneuver.
So while exercising, keep in mind that it is very important to avoid holding your breath. You can talk to the person on the treadmill next to you, count out reps to yourself, sing along to music you may be listening to while you run–anything that will ensure you continuously breathe while exercising!