If you have high blood pressure or are at risk of developing high blood pressure, you may be on the hunt for remedies. Traditionally, high blood pressure is most often managed with medications. However, a few holistic measures can help you manage or prevent elevated blood pressure with fewer side effects than regular medication use.
One of the lesser-known ways to slightly, yet significantly, lower your blood pressure is with slow deep breathing. Today, we will review the benefits of deep breathing and why it works.
How We Breath Daily
Breathing is an automatic bodily function that keeps you alive without having to think about each breath you take. Since you need oxygen to survive, being able to breathe easily and effectively is vital. Additionally, you can also voluntarily take control of your breathing when you want with daily activities. Ultimately, this means you can take time to learn how to control your breath in times of stress or anxiety.
You may have noticed that when you exercise hard or feel stressed, your breathing gets quicker and shallower in response to an increase in stress hormones, primarily cortisol. While this is an essential function, it’s also equally crucial for the body to rest and restore itself with deeper, slower breaths.
How Can Breathing Lower Your Blood Pressure?
We live in a high-stress society that can easily lead to high blood pressure secondary to stress and being sedentary. How can breathing combat this? Stopping to pay attention to your breath with deep inhales (and exhales) has been shown to affect the circulatory system positively.
Deep breathing, classified as less than ten breaths per minute, has been shown to reduce the overall strain on the heart by decreasing heart rate, lowering cortisol levels, and dilating blood vessels. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic system (the system that reduces our stress and promotes activities like sleep and digestion). Plus, over time, as you regularly practice deep breathing, your body will be able to enter a state of relaxation, and thus potentially lower blood pressure even quicker.
The Science of Deep Breathing
A recent 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association supports five minutes of daily deep breathing exercises. This technique, known as High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), has been shown to boost the endurance of respiratory muscles that help us breathe efficiently. It has even been shown to be comparable to medication and exercise prescription for managing high blood pressure. This is excellent news since it is low cost, low risk, and can help combat the top killer in the U.S.: heart disease.
Other Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure
Outside of deep breathing, there are also several other ways to keep your heart healthy and blood pressure at a healthy, safe level (ideally under 140/90 mm Hg). Below are a few options you might consider or talk to your doctor about, especially if your heart health is a concern.
- Exercise regularly. Consistent weekly cardiovascular exercise (at least three times per week) is crucial for overall health and heart health. If your blood pressure is too high, you should notice measurable changes after a few months of regular exercise. Options include, but are not limited to, running or walking (outside or on a treadmill), aerobics, swimming, and more.
- Weight loss. Keeping your weight in a healthy range reduces strain on the musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system and gives you more energy for the activities you love.
- Stress management. Outside of deep breathing, there are many other great ways to keep your stress better managed. Tips include simply learning to say no, better sleep habits, regular exercise, self-care, and mindfulness techniques such as meditation, yoga, or journaling.
- Low sodium diet. Eating fewer salty foods has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Plus, it reduces the risk of complications and poor health associated with cardiovascular disease.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Both of these commonly abused substances can strain your body and put the heart on overload. Reducing your intake or avoiding them altogether is ideal for optimal health and lowering blood pressure.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Taking time to pay attention to the way you breathe is beneficial for stress management and heart health. The best part is that taking time to breathe deeply and mindfully doesn’t take much time to yield the benefits either. Taking time to tune into your body, close your eyes, and deep breathing for five minutes can improve your health and give you some literal peace of mind. There’s nothing to lose! The potential benefits and almost no side effects mean you can get started and make it a daily habit.