The Health Benefits of Slow Breathing
We initially became interested in slow breathing as a way of lowering blood pressure. It certainly seemed to work for Simon, the founder of this website. He found that, over time, regularly practising slow breathing coincided with his blood pressure getting lower. It was also a really pleasant and relaxing thing to do. As we looked into this further, we discovered that slow breathing health benefits extend well beyond lowering blood pressure.
What are the health benefits of slow breathing?
Slow breathing can:
- lower blood pressure
- reduce stress
- alleviate anxiety
- relieve pain
- help improve sleep and reduce insomnia
- reduce menopausal hot flashes
- improve health and quality of life with COPD
- improve health and quality of life with chronic heart failure
Slow breathing reduces stress
One of the most dramatic effects of slow breathing is how quickly it can bring down stress levels.
Experiencing stress, especially chronic stress, can have damaging effects on many aspects of our mental and physical health. Raising blood pressure and heart rate is one. This can actually be dangerous if your blood pressure is already high or you have heart problems.
Another major effect of stress is that it suppresses the immune system. A well-functioning immune system is vital for our basic health. When it’s compromised we’re far more prone to colds and common infections. And we’re also more at risk of developing various chronic health conditions.
And of course, stress can also contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Slow breathing exercises are one of the simplest and most effective ways of reducing stress. As such, they can have profoundly beneficial effects on any aspect of health that’s affected by stress. You can read about this more here: Slow breathing to reduce stress
Slow breathing lowers blood pressure
Slow breathing is actually the quickest natural way to bring down your blood pressure. Slowing down your breathing lowers your heart rate and relaxes your blood vessels, both of which contribute to an immediate decrease in blood pressure and an improvement in circulation. The effect of slow breathing in reducing stress can also play a role since chronic stress is often a driver of high blood pressure.
It’s thought that regularly doing slow breathing exercises can bring down high blood pressure in the long-term too. This is less well understood. However, scientists think it is to do with the moderating effect of slow breathing on the autonomic nervous system. (The autonomic nervous system regulates the things our body does automatically, such as breathe and digest etc. It’s also involved in regulating blood pressure.)
You can read more about how slow breathing lowers blood pressure here: How does slow breathing lower blood pressure?
Slow breathing reduces anxiety
Sufferers of anxiety will also find slow breathing can quickly relieve anxiety. Breathing slowly lowers the heart rate and literally calms the nerves. So it’s a great technique for both relieving and preventing severe anxiety and panic. I can personally attest to this!
Slow breathing eases insomnia and helps you sleep
Doing slow breathing exercises before you go to bed can go a long way to helping you sleep. Slow breathing activates the part of your nervous system responsible for producing a ‘relaxation response’. As such, it directly helps relax your body and unwind your mind. A better night’s sleep will often await
Slow breathing gives you better brain waves
Slow breathing is also just good for calming and clearing your mind and improving your concentration.
Studies at the University of Phoenix have shown that slow breathing can change the basic activity of your brain. Specifically, doing slow breathing exercises produces brain waves which foster a relaxed yet alert state of mind.
Slow breathing reduces pain
Another of the slow breathing health benefits is pain relief. Numerous studies are showing that breathing slowly can reduce pain. And numerous health practitioners now recommend slow breathing and other relaxation practices for sufferers of chronic pain. Slow breathing can help relieve both chronic pain and episodes of acute pain. It works by relaxing the muscles – so is particularly good for muscle-related pain. It also works on all types of pain by relaxing the mind and reducing the perception of pain – also very powerful.
Slow breathing reduces hot flashes during menopause
Regular slow breathing can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes (or hot flushes) during the menopause. The North American Menopause Society recommend doing regular practice of slow paced breathing and using it whenever you feel a hot flash coming on.
Slow breathing improves the health of sufferers of chronic diseases
Slow breathing has also been found to improve various aspects of the physiological functioning of sufferers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Slow breathing has also been found to improve various aspects of the health of those living with chronic heart failure. This includes reducing the shortness of breath that you can get with CHF and improve the capacity for physical exercise.
Slow breathing improves your immune system
As mentioned above in the section on stress, breathing slowly can also improve the functioning of the immune system. This is because breathing slowly helps stimulate the part of the nervous system that promotes rest and relaxation. This in turn has knock-on benefits for the body such as reducing inflammation throughout the body, which helps the immune system to function more effectively. (If you’re interested in this, read this article for details on the vagus nerve, inflammation and the immune system.)
How does slow breathing have so many health benefits?
The effects of slow breathing on health are not fully understood but as interest in slow breathing health benefits grows, research is gathering pace.
I’m just in the middle of writing a new article about that so will post the link to that here shortly.
Why does slow breathing have so many health benefits?
A more fundamental question is, perhaps, why is it the case that breathing more slowly is better for our health?
In the words of James Nestor, who’s written a book on the subject:
One thing that every pulmonary researcher I’ve talked to over the past few years has agreed on is that we tend to overbreathe. What’s considered normal today is anywhere between a dozen and 20 breaths a minute, with an average intake of about 0.5 litres or more of air per breath. For those on the high end of respiratory rates, that’s about twice at much as it used to be.
Breathing too much can raise blood pressure, overwork the heart and lull our nervous systems into a state of stress. For the body to function as peak efficiency we need to breathe as closely in-line with our metabolic needs as possible. For the majority of us that means breathing less. But that’s harder than it sounds. We’ve become conditioned to breathe too much, just as we’ve been conditioned to eat too much. With some effort and training, however, breathing less can become an unconscious habit.
Our breathing has sped up!
This wasn’t always the case, it seems. Researchers think that industrialisation is at least partly responsible. As it has changed our lives in so many practical ways, it’s also changed the way we use our own bodies, even the way we breathe.
[Scientists] discovered that our capacity to breathe has changed through the long processes of human evolution and that the way we breathe has become markedly worse since the dawn of the industrial age. They’d also discovered that with some concerted practice we could restore our breathing and when we did we could take control of certain functions of our nervous and immune systems.
You heard it here first – it’s time to take back control 😉
Just do it
Outlined here are just some slow breathing health benefits. If you want to know more, just do a search online for ‘slow breathing health benefits’. You’ll find you’re overwhelmed by myriad articles extolling its virtues!
As well as the direct physiological health benefits of slow breathing, there are also the knock-on effects of simply taking some time to be with yourself quietly and focus on your breathing. This in itself is calming and creates a bit of space and time in your day.
As some meditators say, just enacting your intention of sitting down to meditate has powerful effects, irrespective of how well you manage to concentrate during your meditation. With slow breathing, you do actually need to breathe slowly to get the full therapeutic benefits. And evidence suggests that the more slowly you can learn to breathe, the deeper the slow breathing health benefits. However, the important thing is just to start doing it!
If you have a physical problem with your breathing, you may need more specialist help than guided audio tracks. Also, some people can find focusing on their breathing to be stressful or distressing. For example, some people who get panic attacks may find it difficult. The best thing in this case is to talk with your doctor about it. Of course, talk to a doctor first if you have any concerns about trying slow breathing exercises.
How to do slow breathing effectively
Slow breathing is obviously very simple. But sometimes simple things can be the hardest! To get the maximum slow breathing health benefits it’s recommended that you do it for at least fifteen minutes most days.
However, if you’re not used to it, it can be hard to maintain your focus on breathing slowly for that long. Or it can just be a bit tricky to keep breathing at a steady pace.
Luckily the remedy is simple – just breathe along to guided audio tracks. Conveniently, we have some available right here! Click here to listen to samples of our guided slow breathing tracks:
Guided slow breathing with audio tracks – how it works
Guided slow breathing audio tracks have breathing prompts that you just breathe in time with – that way you don’t have to worry about timing yourself, or counting, or wondering if you’re breathing slowly enough, or regularly enough.
Our Breathe-Slow collection has different audio tracks with breathing prompts set at different rates (10, 8, 6, 5, and 4 breaths-per-minute, a ‘breath’ here being an in-breath and out-breath). So you can just choose an audio track that’s a bit slower than your current breathing rate and practice with that. Then you can gradually work your way down to slower and slower breathing rates as you get used to doing it.
Generally, the more slowly you breathe, the more deeply you relax, and the more profound the therapeutic benefits.
Slow breathing with background music
Listening to relaxing music has also been found to be relaxing in and of itself and can relieve stress and anxiety and lower high blood pressure. So most of our audio tracks have soothing music in the background. For each breaths-per-minute cycle, you can choose from tracks with three different types of background music.
Slow breathing without music or with your own choice of music
For each breaths-per-minute cycle there is also an audio track with only the breathing prompts and no background music at all. You might find this more relaxing, or you might want to play your own background music. Studies of listening to music and blood pressure have found that how you personally respond to a piece of music is crucial to its effect on your mind and body, and your blood pressure. So this option allows you to choose music that you find particularly relaxing and/or joyful, in order to get the maximum health benefits.
Buy Breathe-Slow audio tracks
The entire Breathe Slow collection of guided slow breathing audio tracks is now available for $17 USD (about £13 or €15).
You’ll get a total of twenty audio tracks: four tracks for each of the five breathing cycles – 10, 8, 6, 5, and 4 breaths per minute. (For each breathing cycle, three of the four tracks have different types of background music and the fourth track has no background music – just the breathing prompts.) So you can always choose a track to suit your desired breathing rate and your musical mood ?
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 health benefits: references and more information
Post by Alison, updated 26th June 2021