Chronic Heart Failure? Slow Breathing Can Help
Chronic heart failure (CHF) can be a debilitating disease. It’s a condition where your heart can no longer pump enough blood out to your tissues. As such, your organs and tissues don’t get enough oxygen and nutrients to function properly.
Sadly, there’s not yet a cure for chronic heart failure. Thankfully, there are ways you can manage it with medicines and with lifestyle changes, such as altering your diet and exercise patterns.
You can also try the simple practice of slow breathing. There are an increasing number of studies which demonstrate that slow breathing can help improve the health and quality of life of those living with CHF.
Slow breathing can improve the oxygen levels in your blood and lower your blood pressure. It can also alleviate shortness of breath to some extent and improve your ability to do physical exercise. Sleep disturbances can also be reduced.
Slow breathing for chronic heart failure – how does it help?
There are various ways in which slow breathing appears to help with living with heart failure. Indeed, one study looking at quality of life in general found that regularly doing slow breathing improved the overall quality of life for CHF sufferers.
Our data indicate that SBT [slow breathing training] is safe in CHF subjects, and may improve their quality of life, mostly due to an improvement in exercise capacity. – Drozdz et al (2016)
Slow breathing can enable you to exercise for longer
As mentioned above, slow breathing can improve the capacity to do physical exercise. This has been found in other studies too. For example, a 1998 study found that training people with CHF to do slower breathing improved the working of their lungs. This meant that they were getting more oxygen into their body and were able to do more physical exercise than previously. Of course, being able to exercise more is not only a good thing in and of itself but can improve your health in various other ways too.
“Slowing respiratory rate reduces dyspnoea and improves both resting pulmonary gas exchange and exercise performance in patients with CHF.” –
Bernardi et al (1998)
Slow breathing can reduce shortness of breath
The CHF sufferers in the 1998 study were not only able to exercise for longer but also reported less shortness of breath (dyspnoea). Another 2011 study found that participants who succeeded in slowing their breathing rates similarly reported reduced breathlessness.
Device-guided RM [respiratory modulation] might have the potential to relieve symptoms of heart failure in outpatients by changing their breathing pattern. –
Ekman et al (2011)
Slow breathing improves baroreflex sensitivity and blood pressure
A study in 2002 found that slow breathing at 6 breaths per minute increased the arterial baroreflex sensitivity in both CHF sufferers and healthy study participants. Baroreflex sensitivity refers to the way the nervous system (via sensors in the arteries) detects and responds to changes in blood pressure. Having lower baroreflex sensitivity is associated with a poorer CHF prognosis so any improvements are good!
Slow breathing also lowered the blood pressure of the CHF sufferers. This is beneficial in that lower blood pressure puts less strain on the heart.
“These data suggest that in patients with CHF, slow breathing, in addition to improving oxygen saturation and exercise tolerance as has been previously shown, may be beneficial by increasing baroreflex sensitivity.” –
Bernardi et al (2002)
Slow breathing can improve your sleep
Last but not least, a study from 2016 had participants do 12 weeks of daily slow breathing (using a device to guide their breathing) and found that it reduced sleep disturbances caused by breathing difficulties.
How to do slow breathing to improve your health with CHF
PLEASE NOTE: We are not medical professionals. Please consult with your doctor or appropriate medical practitioner before doing slow breathing if you haven’t tried it before.
So, now you’ve heard about the benefits of slow breathing for chronic heart failure. What about how to do it? How slow should you be breathing? And for how long?
The studies mentioned above mostly used breathing rates of 6 breaths per minute. A ‘breath’ in this context refers to the cycle of one in-breath and one out-breath. Some used 10 breaths per minute. The main thing is that you are slowing your breathing down compared to the rate at which you normally breathe, which for most people is about 12 – 15 breaths per minute.
As for how long to do it for, the studies varied in using 4 minute sessions to 20 minute sessions. In other research into slow breathing, studies have generally used 15 minute sessions. We reckon this is a good length of time to aim for. This allows you to really focus and settle into it. And of course, if you find it comfortable, you can do it for longer.
Guided slow breathing
Slow breathing superficially sounds easy to do – you just breathe more slowly, right? And for some people it is easy. However, for many of us, it’s quite hard to breathe regularly at a slower rate than usual. This is mainly as our minds drift off and we start breathing more at our normal rate without noticing. It is important to maintain the slower breathing rate fairly consistently though. Indeed, in one study, it was only the participants who succeeded in slowing their breathing down properly that had the health benefits, compared to those who didn’t manage to do it.
It’s important to note that in the studies quoted above, the participants had either training in doing slow breathing, or had real-time guidance while doing slow breathing. It’s not that you can’t breathe slowly on your own – of course you can. However, especially at first, it can be difficult to maintain a steady, slower, breathing rate without help.
Our Breathe Slow collection consists of five sets of four tracks with breathing prompts for different breathing paces.
The fastest is 10 breaths per minute (that’s ten breaths in, ten breaths out). The others are 8, 6, 5, and 4 per minute. So you can gradually work your way down to slower breathing rates as you get more used to it. Generally, the more slowly you breathe, the deeper the benefits you can experience, but any slowing down should help.
For each breathing rate, there are four different tracks. Three of them have different types of background music so you can choose what you feel like listening to. The fourth track is only the breathing prompts. So you can listen to them on their own or play your own music in the background.
You can click here to listen to some samples: slow breathing audio samples
The full set of tracks is available to buy for just $17 USD (about £13 or €15) for digital downloads which you can use right away. You can also buy them as physical CDs though it costs a wee bit more.
The Breathe-Slow audio tracks come with a 60 day no-questions-asked 100% money-back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied with your investment. Note that this is a digital download ONLY – no CDs will be sent to you.
To order physical CDs, click here:
(note that the physical CDs do not include the 4 breaths per minute tracks)
Slow breathing for chronic heart failure: references
Post written and all articles retrieved on the 9th March 2021.