Diet fads in Japan come and go like sakura blossoms in the wind. A couple Japanese diet fads that instantly come to mind are the natto diet, the tomato juice diet, and the infamous banana diet. With diets that involve eating certain foods, rushes are made on the supermarkets, causing the items to become scarce or sold out. But do you know what will never sell out? Air. There's a lot of air… that's why the breath diet is the ultimate diet. Because, all you have to do is breathe.
That's right. Breathing is a diet fad. Although it's been around for a little bit already, I've recently started hearing a lot about it from friends and the interwebs. It's called 'ロングブレスダイエット' (Long Breath Diet) and it involves a lot of strained breathing in order to help you to lose weight. Despite how ridiculous this sounds, it might not be as crazy as you think. I don't think you'll see anyone dropping tons of weight in a short amount of time doing this diet (that's unhealthy anyways). But, there is a tiny bit of logic and science to it, which, compared to previous Japanese diet fads, is a "breath of fresh air," if you catch my drift.
How The Long Breath Diet Works
Japanese actor Ryosuke Miki (in the video above) started doing breathing exercises like this in order to ease his back pain. Then, he started noticing that he was losing weight, amounting to 28 pounds and 5 inches off the waist by doing this program for 50 days. But what is this program? Essentially, you breath in through your nose and then exhale through your mouth, trying to expand your lungs for long periods of time. You should be stimulating your inner core muscles inside of your body, which gives you a bit of a workout. In the video above, he goes over two techniques for doing long breath exercises. Here is some info on the two methods:
Tighten your butt, put one foot in front of your body, placing most of your weight on your back foot. Then, breathe in for three seconds raising your hands in the air. As you exhale, use your whole body to push the air out of your lungs, getting most of it out in the first part (also don't forget to make the noise that's in the video). Your exhale should last seven seconds. The difficult part is continuing to push when you don't really have air to breathe out. Do this six times. It should take about one minute.
Tighten your butt cheeks and stand straight up. Put one hand on your lower abdomen and one hand on your lower back to keep your back straight. Breathe in for three seconds while sucking in your midsection. Breathe out for seven seconds while sucking in your stomach even more.
So, it is a little bit more than breathing. You don't just breathe in and breathe out like you always do. A lot of the effort comes from exhaling when you don't have anything to exhale, which really makes you work those inner muscles that you don't have to work normally. You can even try this right now and see how difficult it is for you. If you go all out, it actually takes a lot more strength and perseverance than you'd expect. So… maybe this isn't the "easy way out" Japanese diet trend that I suspected upon first hearing about it.
But Does This Fad Work?
Japanese diet fads are particularly known for coming and going in quick fashion. One day grocery stores will be selling out of bananas and the next it will be vinegar, or natto, or tomato juice. This will either make you hate bananas or just be plain ol' unhealthy. But, the Long Breath Diet is (maybe?) a form of exercise, meaning that you can pair it with healthy eating (or nonstop bananas) and various other exercises. It also has some other effects that you might not notice right off the bat. I did some research pertaining to this fad and found a decent amount of information on why this exercise diet may not be as ridiculous as it seems. At the very least, I'm not finding a bunch of "whoops, the research on this diet was actually flawed / tampered with!" articles out there, so that's a good sign.
Stomach Breathing vs. Chest Breathing
Long Breath Diet exercises will actually teach you how to be a better stomach breather. While most people are naturally chest breathers, this is actually an inefficient way to breathe as it mainly uses the top lobes of your lungs, thus giving you poorer nutrient delivery to your body through said lungs. Stomach breathing on the other hand uses your whole lung, thus giving your body more nutrients. The difference, it turns out, is a 20% reduction in oxygen blood levels. A low blood oxygen level will increase fatigue, anxiety, and make it harder for you to exert yourself physically. If you're having trouble moving around, you're already at a disadvantage when it comes to losing weight.
An increased metabolism will increase the thermic rate of your body, which means more fat burned. Through good breathing, you are increasing your oxygen blood levels which increases your metabolism. Guess what you're doing with the Long Breath Diet? You got it, increasing your metabolism by teaching yourself stronger breathing. That being said, changing your base metabolism takes a lot of time. By doing the Long Breath Diet you'll be taking steps in the right direction, but if you stick with it you'll surely see some long term results.
Yoga Does It Too
Yoga, Pilates, and other similar activities use some of the philosophies that were included in the Long Breath Diet. While I might have called yoga or pilates a "fad" five years ago, it's apparent now that they're both here to stay, so there must be some kind of benefit going on there. The breathing in yoga has similar results to what happens with the Long Breath Diet. They're not the same, but there are some distinct similarities here.
"Minimum Effective Dose"
The "Minimum Effective Dose" is the idea that exercising beyond a certain point is wasteful and inefficient, though there are many non-exercise things that fall within the boundaries of the "MED." Examples include:
Water boils at 212° F (100° C). It also boils at 300° F. But, anything above 212° F to boil water is wasted energy. You could boil multiple sets of water at 212° F in the time it would take to heat water up to 400° (though I have no idea why you'd ever want to do that. Hey, stay away from me with that 400° bucket of water you psychopath).
If you need 15 minutes in the sun to trigger a melanin response in your skin (for tanning), anything above 15 minutes will just burn you. It won't make you more tan. It is just wasted time and energy (and it'll hurt pretty badly later that night, too). You have a choice: stay outside for 15 minutes then get out out of the sun (and go back outside tomorrow and the next day)… or, stay outside for 45 minutes for one day. Option one will give you a much better tan, option two will involve a lot of aloe. With physical exercise, the same holds true as well. To burn fat efficiently, you want to do the least amount necessary to trigger the hormones that help you to lose fat. Same thing goes with building muscle as well. If you work out so hard you can't work out again the next day (or soon after), it becomes inefficient. Repairing your muscles after a small workout versus a workout that just obliterates your muscles doesn't have too much of a difference. They both release muscle building hormones, but the latter takes a lot longer to heal, meaning you have to wait a longer time until the next workout (which will allow you to build more muscle again).
The Long Breath Diet feels a lot like the Minimum Effective Dose to me… possibly even too minimum, though that's going to be up to you to adjust the exercise to your own personal preference. The reason I feel that the Long Breath Diet falls into the MED category is two-fold: First, the workout is very short and sweet. You're just doing enough to trigger a response from your body to make change (fat loss and muscle building). Second, you're required to do these exercises every single day, meaning you're getting that "15 minute melanin" response, though instead of melanin you're creating muscle and encouraging fat loss.
While "easy" and "quick" exercises are often looked upon as cheats there is something to them. The problem people usually face is that they don't do them every single day. If you don't do these kinds of things every day, or if you stop after a week or two, of course you're not going to see results. MED really relies heavily on consistency (kind of like Japanese learning!)
(Thanks to the 4 Hour Body for the info and examples on MED)
My Addition: Keep Track And Measure
The most important thing, I think, is to keep track of statistics, basically because it keeps you aware. This could be your weight or your body fat percentage (though I'd recommend the latter, as the first is often an inaccurate measure of results, since muscle weight gain can often replace fat loss). The Long Breath Diet is the perfect sort of exercise to pair with keeping track of said statistics. You can easily weigh / measure yourself before every workout, since it's easy to do at home. But, why are these statistics so important? Why does it even matter?
Turns out, keeping track of your weight (and that's it) also aides in weight loss. It's the awareness. There have been numerous experiments out there of people doing absolutely nothing (and trying hard not to change anything else, even) and losing weight from it. The only trick is that they are aware of their weight. And, they're measuring it as accurately as possible on a consistent basis. Perhaps it's a subconscious thing.
In fact, there is another diet fad from Japan called the ガッテンダイエットクラブ (Understanding Diet Club) that takes advantage of just this. You can join the club and keep track of your weight. Simply through awareness you will (supposedly) lose weight.
The mind, it seems, is a very powerful thing. Just imagine if you couple it with some actual movement instead of laying around watching anime with your body pillow all day!
Anyways, all this shows is that it's important to measure. If you don't measure, you have no idea if you're making progress. If you don't know you're making progress, things can get discouraging, so I'd highly recommend it to everyone. You can apply this to Japanese learning as well!
Let's Watch Some People Doing It!
Because it's fun, and because it's good to see examples of things, let's watch some people doing the long breath diet. Here's a guy's "Day 1."
And here's "Day 181." Hard to tell if it's working, to be honest, but good for him.
Here's Miki, at Day 314!
He makes it look tough, huh?
So, there's a decent amount of people doing this. Plus, it's been on television, so you know it's big. Like any diet fad it's probably going to come and go moderately quickly (if it hasn't already). I'd put it on more of a Tae Bo schedule, if anything, which gives it a little extra life. That being said, after initially hearing about the "Long Breath Diet" I never imagined it to be what it actually is. I thought for sure it was a total sham and would be easy to make fun of, but it turns out to not be as bad as I thought. You actually have to work pretty hard, and it has a long term effect on not only your fat and muscles, but your blood stream and metabolism as well. Plus, it seems to be pretty efficient in terms of what you have to do, the time you spend, and then what you get out of it.
I'm not one to really try out diets or know much about nutrition, though I have been a bit interested in this kind of thing lately. So, for all of you smarter people out there, how do you see the Long Breath Diet stacking up? Is it a sham? Is it going to disappear sooner rather than later? Or, are we going to see thousands of Long Breath Diet centers popping up in every neighborhood of Japan?
And, for those of you who are brave enough… try it out! Just be sure to go at 100%. How do you feel afterward? The one time I did it, it was more work than I thought. No matter how good you are at breathing, you can always make it more difficult on yourself, which means it's potentially a "workout" for anyone. Breathing isn't as easy as most people make it out to be, it seems.