Breathing Exercises Help Lower Blood Pressure and Improve Heart Health

blood pressureTheresa Hernandez, 61, has a family history of high blood pressure. Doctors recommended that she take medications to lower her blood pressure, which was considered high. She participated in a six-week trial that consisted of breathing exercises. Her blood pressure dropped significantly, and she says she plans to stick with it — five minutes every day. “It took my blood pressure to under the threshold so that I would not need to take medication,” she says.

New Study Shows That Breathing Exercises Can Reduce High Blood Pressure and Improve Heart Health

While blood pressure medication may be the right option for some seniors and others with high blood pressure, there are other ways to treat high blood pressure before it gets out of control.

New research shows that muscle training for the diaphragm and other breathing muscles can help reduce high blood pressure and promote heart health. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researcher Daniel Craighead, a physiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and his colleagues recruited healthy volunteers ages 18 to 82 to complete a daily five-minute technique using a resistance-breathing device called PowerBreathe. Over six weeks, some of the participants breathed into this hand-held device in a process called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) or just Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT).

Another group did a normal breathing session each day as a control group.

The hand-held PowerBreathe device looks somewhat like an asthma inhaler and is one of several brands of similar devices on the market easily available from Amazon or elsewhere for about $100. When people breathe into it, the device provides resistance, making it harder to inhale. Using the device to take breaths takes more effort than normal breathing, thereby providing a muscle workout for the breathing muscles, like dumbbells for the diaphragm. Here’s how the study worked:

  • IMST participants were instructed to take 30 breaths per day with the machine for five to seven days a week for six weeks. The team then measured systolic and diastolic blood pressure for all participants.
    • A blood pressure reading is usually shown as a ratio of systolic to diastolic blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
      • The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
      • The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
      • A normal blood pressure is under 120/80 mmHg, according to the American Heart Association.
    • Participants who did the high resistance breath training saw their blood pressure drop by the second week, and it continued to drop through the sixth week of the trial.
      • Systolic blood pressure dropped by about 9 mmHg and diastolic by about 4 mmHg.
      • The people who had the largest benefits from the training were older adults and people who were not on medications.
      • Blood pressure remained the same for the control group who didn’t go through resistance breath training.
    • The study shows that IMST, which acts as strength training for the respiratory muscles, is beneficial for adults of all ages.
    • These results are promising for people who wish to lower their blood pressure and strengthen their heart. Other research on IMST suggests it may also have benefits for people who have kidney disease.

According to Craighead, “(t)he muscles we use to breathe atrophy, just like the rest of our muscles tend to do as we get older. We found that doing 30 breaths per day for six weeks lowers systolic blood pressure by about 9 millimeters of mercury. And those reductions are about what could be expected with conventional aerobic exercise, he says — such as walking, running or cycling.”

Breathing Exercises You Can Do on Your Own at Home

Can controlled breathing on your own without the machine lower blood pressure? Yes, simply controlling your breathing can lower blood pressure. But, keep in mind that if you’re dealing with high blood pressure due to a poor diet or lack of exercise, these other areas of health maintenance will also be required to seriously lower high blood pressure.

Generally speaking, there’s not one single best breathing exercise for high blood pressure. There are many different methods you can try. Here are several to start with:

Deep Breaths

  • The first exercise you can try to reduce high blood pressure is to simply take some deep breaths. All you need is 30 seconds to close your eyes and focus on deep breathing through your nose and into your diaphragm, which means breathing into your abdominal area so that your abdomen expands as you breathe. Close your eyes and relax your body as much as you can;
  • Set a timer for 30 seconds;
  • Take six slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth, focusing on your inhalation and exhalation and perhaps resting your hands gently on your belly to ensure that you are properly breathing into your abdomen. Many people are not taught how to breathe correctly, and breathe into their lungs, which does nothing to strengthen the diaphragm. According to the American Lung Association, proper breathing starts by breathing in through the nose and then moves to the stomach as your diaphragm contracts, expanding your abdomen and filling your lungs fill with air.
  • Repeat as needed.

Equal Breathing

Equal breathing simply means that the length of your inhalations and your exhalations will be equal. This breathing technique takes you a step up from simply breathing deeply because, as you count out the length of your breaths, you’re focusing even more intently on your breath and nothing else.

  • Sit or lie down comfortably in a quiet place. Close your eyes and relax your body as much as you can;
  • Slowly inhale through your nose and into your abdomen while counting to four.
  • Pause briefly at the top of your inhale, allowing your lungs to reap the benefits;
  • Slowly exhale through your nose or mouth while counting to four;
  • Pause briefly at the bottom of your exhale as you empty your lungs completely;
  • Repeat as needed.

With equal breathing, you can practice varying the lengths of your breath, seeing how much you can slow down your breathing. For example, breathing in for 8 and breathing out for 8, etc.

4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is a quick and easy way to lower blood pressure. It takes less than two minutes, and you can do it anywhere, anytime. Follow these simple steps:

  • Empty your lungs and inhale through your nose into your abdomen while silently counting to four;
  • Hold your breath to the count of seven;
  • Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight;
  • Repeat this process consecutively three or four times in a row.

Exercise Helps Prevent High Blood Pressure Too

Breathing techniques are not intended to replace exercise or to replace medication for people whose blood pressure is so elevated that they’re at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Instead, they are a good additional intervention for people who are doing other healthy lifestyle approaches already.

Exercise is an important part of nearly everyone’s everyday health, including older adults. If you are an older adult, exercise can help you live a longer, healthier life by improving certain conditions.

There are many benefits of exercising when you’re a senior, including:

  • improving your strength;
  • improving balance, to prevent falls;
  • giving you more energy;
  • preventing or delaying diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis;
  • improving your mood and fighting off depression;
  • improving cognitive function.

With breathing techniques, exercising, and other lifestyle changes, you may be able to improve your blood pressure without medication. If you have high blood pressure or want to start an exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor.

Plan Ahead for Peace of Mind

Breathing exercises, exercising, and eating right are sometimes not enough to prevent a medical emergency. That’s why adults of all ages should sign an advance medical directive and a general power of attorney. Signing these incapacity planning documents is the only way to ensure that your wishes are met in the simplest and least expensive manner if you should become unable to make important decisions for yourself.

If you have not done incapacity planning or estate planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact the Farr Law Firm as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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