Breath Slower and Live Longer

Breathing at a rate of 6 breaths a minute for just a few minutes a day is enough to your lower blood pressure. Several studies have shown that dedicating 15 minutes a day could lower your blood pressure by 12- 15 mmHg in 8 weeks. In this article, I’ll explain how. Later I give three easy ways to practice deep breathing that can actually extend your life span!

High blood pressure, over 140/90, puts you at increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, blindness and dementia, and it’s often called “the silent killer,” because you may not notice any symptoms until it’s done its damage. Overweight, inactivity, and heavy salt consumption increase your risk, while weight loss, exercise and sodium reduction (to less than 2,300 milligrams a day) are lifestyle changes that can reverse hypertension. Hypertension has been called “a disease of civilization and a sedentary lifestyle.”

Now we can add deep breathing to the list. Dr David Anderson, who heads research into behavior and hypertension at the NIH’s National Institute on Aging, notes that when people are under chronic stress, they tend to take shallow breaths and unconsciously hold them. This is known as “inhibitory breathing.”

Holding a breath diverts more blood to the brain to increase alertness (which is useful in responding to danger) but by changing blood gases, it changes the blood’s chemical balance to a more acidic one, which makes the kidneys less efficient at pumping out sodium. That reduces the kidney’s ability to regulate salt. Slow, rhythmic, and deep breathing, is also known as diaphragmatic breathing,

Slow breathing lowers blood pressure by another mechanism: Breathing at less than 6 breath a minute increases baroreflex sensitivity and reduces sympathetic activity.

Baroceptors are negative feedback pressure receptors in the blood vessel walls. Increased blood pressure stretches blood vessels which activates the pressure receptors or baroreceptors in the vessel walls. In response, the central nervous system reduces central sympathetic outflow. This reduces blood pressure both by decreasing peripheral vascular resistance and by lowering cardiac output. The modulation of BP changes by baroreflex activity controls vagal reflexes as well as sympathetic ones. Baroreflex sensitivity can be enhanced significantly by slow breathing at less than 10 breaths a minute.

In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the nonprescription RESPeRATE device as a means to lower blood pressure by pacing the rate of breathing. The device counts breaths by sensing chest or abdominal movement, and gradually slowing chimes signal when to inhale and exhale. Users follow the tone until their breathing slows from the usual 16 to 19 breaths a minute to 10 or fewer. Use of the RESPeRATE for 15 minutes a day for two months dropped blood pressure drop 10 to 15 points. The RESPeRATE unit costs from $200-300.

If you can’t afford that right now, there are other good ways of practicing slow, deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, for fifteen minutes a day.

My first suggestion would be to get a good Chi Gong routine and practice it every day. One of my favorites is Shibashi Chi Gong,
which can be seen on YouTube. I like the Shibashi style because it’s simple and easy to remember. Chi Gong routines are physically relaxing and healing and all are performed in coordination with deep slow breathing.

Also good is Pranayama, or the practice of yogic breathing. Try
alternate nostril yoga breathing:

1. Close the right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril for 4 seconds.
2. Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring index and middle finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril for 8 seconds.

3. Inhale through the right nostril for 4 seconds. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale through the left nostril to the count of eight seconds. Repeat seven times. Do not practice this technique if you have a cold or if your nasal passages are blocked.

Another, more modern technique is the Second Hand Technique. Use a clock with a second hand and the numerals 1 through 12 clearly visible on it, along with a silent electronic kitchen timer. Set the timer to 15 minutes.

Sitting comfortably in a quiet room, focus your attention on your breathing, watching the sweeping second hand of the clock. Each complete breath should last 10 seconds. Breath in for 4 seconds, hold a second, and out for 5 seconds. As the sweeping second hand passes each number you could silently repeat the following to yourself: In, 2, 3, 4, exhale, 7, 8, 9, 10.

If your mind drifts, bring it back to concentrating on the clock.. Your timer will keep you from having to worry about the time. Try measuring your pulse rate and blood pressure before, during, and immediately after your deep breathing sessions. You may notice a significant difference even in one session; however permanent healthy change will take several months of consistent practice.

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4 responses to “Breath Slower and Live Longer

  1. Question–my understanding is that
    Resperate works not only because it slows breathing, but because it changes the ratio of inhale time to exhale time. Do you know the target ratio hey use, or the recommended ratio?

  2. Your blog is great–very useful information presented well.

  3. The first Yoga breathing exercise for beginners consists in diaphragmatic breathing with quick exhaling through sudden contraction of the abdominal core, so you breathe in using the lower part of the lungs and exhale quickly through the nose. There’s a nice feeling to it and it’s not difficult, you can feel the burst of the core contraction channeling energy all the way through the spine.

  4. Pingback: Asana « An Interior Forest

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