I’m a systems thinker, or so I’m told by the folks at work who value the way I look at often-confusing things and quickly identify patterns. I see the body as a bunch of systems, just like we were taught in middle school. The cardiovascular system moves blood. The respiratory system moves oxygen and carbon dioxide. Together, they make sure your cells “work.” When you’re out of breath, it’s because your cells either need more oxygen or have produced too much carbon dioxide, which your body is trying to get out. Usually, both.
When I’m on the elliptical machine going full-tilt, I try to pay attention to my heart rate so it stays within a zone that’s optimal for burning calories. Too slow, and nothing of much benefit happens. Too fast, and the body goes into panic mode. Within the zone of 65-85 percent of your maximum heart rate is the goal.
I’ve found that I can lower my heart rate by as many as 10-15 beats per minute by focusing on breathing more regularly and deeply. This works by helping the lungs more effectively transfer oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. The more regular and deep your breaths, the less your heart has to work to get its job done.