Lillian Wilson

Proper Breathing Is A Secret To Healthy Blood Pressure

Breathing exercises: a simple solution to lower high blood pressure and promote heart health.

breathing and high blood pressure man senior

High blood pressure is an extremely widespread disease. Globally, around 1.28 billion people suffer from hypertension, with around 16 million people in the UK.

1.28 billion people have hypertension in the world Source: WHO

No matter what income, race, gender, or age one has, they are at risk of high blood pressure. You are more likely to develop hypertension if you are older, make certain lifestyle choices, or are genetically predisposed to it. Nevertheless, your chances of developing the condition often depend on your heart’s health.

The good news is that maintaining a healthy heart is actually as simple as eating a sensible diet, exercising moderately, and, of course, learning to breathe properly.

What is the link between breathing and blood pressure?

Heart plays a role not only in pumping and circulating blood, it also contributes to breathing. Heart distributes the oxygen after inhalation and brings carbon dioxide back to the lungs so that we can breathe out the excess.

In the process of pumping, blood pushes against the walls of the arteries, causing pressure. When blood pressure rises and remains too high for an extended period of time, problems can occur. This can result in heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, and other health problems.

Healthy blood circulation is essential to a healthy body. Oxygen is carried by the blood to every part of the body, so if circulation is cut off, that area will be deprived of oxygen. The lack of oxygen in the heart causes cells to die when circulation is cut off to any part of it, resulting in a heart attack. The brain may experience a stroke if it does not receive enough oxygen because of insufficient blood flow.

Light nose breathing is especially beneficial for blood circulation. Nasal breathing releases hormones that regulate blood pressure and adjust heart rate. In contrast, habitual snoring, a result of night mouth breathing, was associated with a 25% higher stroke risk.

Habitual snoring is associated with a higher risk of stroke +25% Source: PubMed

What nasal breathing can do to your blood pressure?

1The effects of proper breathing on blood pressure are long-lasting

Various medications are available to reduce the symptoms of hypertension, but a few can boast of having enduring effects. Usually, you have to take them every single day and when you stop the symptoms are back.

Whereas, regular slow breathing practice brings about long-term benefits for blood pressure. During the course of the study, participants practised the breath training for six weeks and then had a six-week break. The positive decrease in blood pressure was maintained even after the break.

2Breathing exercises promote stress relaxation

Stress is a major trigger of 75-90% of human diseases. People with high blood pressure tend to have a stronger-than-normal response to stress. Light, slow, and deep breathing exercises for people with hypertension are especially beneficial as they lower blood pressure, ease stress, and avert further health complications over both the short and long term.

Several studies have shown that mental relaxation and slow breathing exercises successfully activate the parasympathetic response in high blood pressure patients. The parasympathetic nervous system is a part of the nervous system responsible for slowing the heart rate and relaxing muscles. The study participants were able to reduce their blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate as a result of activating this part of the nervous system with breathing exercises.

3Practising breathing exercises helps to manage sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep. People who breathe through their mouths are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnoea.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is closely associated with hypertension. Around 50% of OSA patients have high blood pressure, and between 30% and 40% of hypertensive patients have OSA.

In a study, 40 patients with sleep apnoea were split into two groups for a study. One group did oropharyngeal exercises and Pranayama breathing exercises, while the other group received sham therapy. At the beginning and end of the study, the researchers measured the patients’ snoring frequency and intensity, daytime sleepiness, and sleep quality. The patients who did the exercises had better results, with less snoring, less sleepiness, better sleep quality, and reduced symptoms of sleep apnoea. Another group did not have any changes.

4Light, slow breathing can drop your blood pressure levels

When practising slow breathing the baroreceptors become more responsive to changes in blood pressure. Baroreceptors are movement-sensitive nerve endings that work to regulate blood pressure. Slow, light breathing improves your CO₂ tolerance and this makes the baroreceptors stronger and more able to maintain blood pressure at healthy levels.

Researchers studied how using a device to strengthen breathing muscles affects blood pressure when combined with slow breathing exercises. They split 30 patients with high blood pressure into three groups. One group did slow breathing twice a day for eight weeks, another used the device with added pressure while doing the same exercise, and the third did nothing different.

Both the slow breathing group and the loaded breathing group saw significant decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The diastolic blood pressure (DBP) dropped by 7 mmHg and systolic blood pressure (SBP) by 13.5 mmHg with slow breathing. The group that tested a device had an 18.8 mmHg and an 8.6 mmHg drop in DBP and SBP, respectively.

The heart rate dropped by 8 beats/min in the slow-breathing group and by 9 beats/min in the group with a device.

Practising slow breathing for eight weeks lowered systolic blood pressure 13.5 mmHg Source: ScienceDirect

5Breathing exercises can reduce the risk of a detrimental effect of physical activity in hypertensive people

Physical exercises have a positive influence in reducing hypertension severity as they make your heart stronger. But intense physical activity can be risky in cases of severe hypertension.

In a study, 20 people with isolated systolic hypertension (ISH) did a breath training program for eight weeks. They practised taking 60 breaths at a specific rate and pressure. After the program, their systolic blood pressure decreased by 22 mmHg, diastolic by 9 mmHg, and heart rate by 12 beats per minute. They also did better on hand-grip and arm exercises.

The researchers suggested that this type of breathing exercise could help reduce the negative effects of exercise for people with high blood pressure and support heart health. They think that the nose breathing technique used in the program might have helped make breathing easier and reduced the load on the heart.

How to breathe to lower blood pressure

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In order to utilise breathing as a method of lowering hypertension we have to address the main factors that trigger it. Genetic predisposition cannot be affected by breathing but such factors as disordered breathing during sleep or stress can be eliminated via practising light breathing exercises.

1Breath lightly

The ability of breathing exercises to lower blood pressure levels is underestimated. It seems too easy and too unrealistic. By breathing practising slow, light breathing you’re absorbing more oxygen, but you’re also keeping more CO2. When practising this the heart rate slows down and this does fantastic things for the blood pressure.

Light breathing exercise

1. Count to six while breathing in.

2. Exhale to the same count from one to six.

3. Keep breathing in and out lightly and slowly while counting.

Practise for up two minutes (mind your comfort, if you feel that it is too hard for you to continue for two minutes reduce the time).

By breathing this slowly you are absorbing more oxygen and keeping more CO2. If you put your hand on your chest while breathing according to this pattern you may feel your heart rate lower.

Dr. Patricia Gerberg and Dr. Richard Brown at Columbia, have found that just having people breathe like this even for a few minutes a day, is fantastic for blood pressure. They use it for their patients with anxiety, depression and other fear-based disorders… I can take my blood pressure before, and breathe like this and two minutes later I can see my blood pressure go down about 10 to 15 points.
James Nestor
Science journalist, author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

2Mind your night breathing

As we have figured out the way you breathe at night vastly affects blood pressure as sleep apnoea, a form of dysfunctional night breathing might lead to elevated blood pressure levels.

Alternate nasal breathing exercises for better sleep

1. Cross your legs as you sit.

2. The left hand should be placed on the knee and the right thumb should be placed on the nose.

3. Breathe out fully and close the right nostril.

4. Breathe in through your left nostril.

5. Open your right nostril, then breathe out through it while closing the left.

6. Continue this breathing pattern for 5 minutes, at the end exhaling through your left nostril.

3Reduce your stress

The effects of stress can be seen through repeated elevation of blood pressure. That is why it is very important to lower your stress levels and this can be done with breathing exercises.

Exercise to reduce stress

Try to get as comfortable as possible, and loosen any clothes that might make it hard for you to breathe. If you are lying down, keep your arms slightly away from your body with your palms facing up. You can keep your legs straight or bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the ground. If you are sitting, keep your arms on the chair arms. Whether you are sitting or standing, keep your feet flat on the ground and about hip-width apart.

1. Allow your breath to flow as deeply into your belly as it feels comfortable.

2. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.

3. Breathe lightly and regularly. Counting from 1 to 5 steadily can be helpful. At first, reaching 5 may be difficult.

4. While counting from 1 to 5, breathe out.

5. Keep doing this for at least 5 minutes.

Let’s summarise

High blood pressure is a widespread and serious health concern, affecting millions of people around the world. However, the good news is that there are simple and effective ways to manage this condition and improve the health of your heart.

Slow breathing exercises show remarkable results in reducing blood pressure levels. By practising these exercises regularly, you can produce long-term benefits for your blood pressure and promote relaxation, manage sleep apnoea, and reduce stress. So, let’s take charge of our health and incorporate these simple breathing exercises into our daily routines. Right breathing can really improve heart health and lead happier healthier lives.

Not enough? Here is more

We highly recommend the book ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’ by James Nestor for anyone interested in the fascinating science of breathing and its impact on our health, fitness, and overall well-being. Through personal anecdotes, historical research, and cutting-edge science, Nestor takes readers on a journey of discovery about the power of breathing and how we can optimize our breath to live healthier and happier lives. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to better understand the importance of proper breathing techniques and the many benefits they offer.

Breath book cover James Nestor

In this video, James Nestor shares how his blood pressure levels dropped by 15 mmHg after practising breathing exercises. James Nestor is an award-winning science journalist, who is traveling the world to find out what went wrong in our evolution of breathing and how to fix it. He is the author of the book ‘Breath’ which has become an international bestseller.

Healthypedia FAQ

Globally, it is estimated that 1.13 billion people suffer from hypertension, with the majority living in low- and middle-income countries. In the United States in 2020, around 108 million people or 45% of the adult population have high blood pressure. In the United Kingdom, one in three adults has the condition, rising to one in two in people over 65 - around 16 million people in total.

IMST is a therapy developed in the 1980s to help people with respiratory diseases strengthen their diaphragms and breathing muscles. It involves using a small handheld device to provide resistance when you inhale. Doing so, it can help strengthen your breathing muscles and potentially lead to improvements in blood pressure levels.

Regular slow breathing practice can produce long-term benefits for blood pressure and activate the parasympathetic response, which reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Breathing exercises that can help reduce hypertension risks include slow diaphragm breathing, loaded breathing exercises, and alternate nasal breathing exercises.

Yes, breathing reeducation is vital in the management of OSA, which produces surges in blood pressure that keep mean blood pressure levels elevated at night. The use of breathing exercises can help improve breathing patterns and reduce the negative impact of exercise on patients with high blood pressure.

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