Interesting new research has emerged about the importance of the lowly sigh. We all do it,
and for a variety of reasons. In a story on the website MedIndia – Network for Health, sighing actually increases the flexibility of the human breathing system.
The article explains, “Scientists have found that sighing resets breathing patterns that are getting out of whack and keep our respiratory system flexible.”
The study was undertaken by researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium. They rigged up eight men and 34 women with sensor-equipped shirts that recorded their breathing, heart rates and blood carbon dioxide levels over 20 minutes of quiet sitting.
What the scientists were looking for were specific changes over one-minute periods encompassing sighs that could confirm or contradict the ‘re-setter hypothesis’ for the function of sighing.
“Our results show that the respiratory dynamics are different before and after a sigh. We hypothesize that a sigh acts as a general re-setter of the respiratory system,” said Elke Vlemincx, one of the co-authors.
The re-setter hypothesis is based on the idea that breathing is an inherently dynamic and chaotic system, with all sorts of internal and external factors changing how much oxygen we need and keeping our lungs healthy and ready for action.
According to researchers, when breathing is in one state for too long, the lungs deteriorate. They become stiffer and less efficient in gas exchange.
So, in times of stress, when breathing is less variable, a sigh can reset the respiratory system and loosen the lung’s air sacs, or alveoli, which may be accompanied by a sensation of relief.
Fascinating stuff, this breathing.
The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Biological Psychology.
Click here to read more.