Did you know that roughly 25% of adult Americans have high blood pressure according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute? You’re always cautioned about it in terms of poor eating habits, a lack of exercise, stress and salt consumption; which all heighten your risk of heart attack, kidney disease, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, and stroke. But there’s another very important aspect that should be included in your prevention toolbox. Stress Reduction.
Let’s face it ~ learning to relax is good for you! What affect does stress have on your blood pressure? It triggers your body’s natural “fight or flight” response. Your brain releases adrenaline and your cortisol levels rise. This combination causes your blood to thicken and heart to pump faster, putting a strain on weakened arteries.
Deep Breathing is easy to do and extremely effective for turning the volume down on stress. It directly helps you to counter the “fight or flight” response by slowing your heart rate. Just like professional athletes and others who are able to tune out pressure and stress, you can tap into that same skill set and reduce your everyday stress triggers. You can call on it in a second ~ use it at home or in your work place.
Most of us suffer from a lack of oxygen. Only 22% of the air you breathe is actually oxygen. Our modern world environment with depleted oxygen levels in the atmosphere actually requires your cells to use even more of this odorless/colorless gas to deal with the many stresses on our body’s ability to function optimally. Whether from improper breathing, air pollution, poor diets or lack of exercise, your cells are being deprived of this essential element and consequently weakening your immune system. But, here’s the thing. That Oxygen not only sustains your life but, it also destroys harmful bacteria in your body without affecting the beneficial bacteria that you need. There isn’t an antibiotic or drug that can make that claim. This vital oxygen is another important reason why engaging in regular breathing exercises can help lower your blood pressure to healthier levels.
Alternate Nose Breathing (Pranayama)
There was research published in the 2008 edition of the ‘Nepal Medical College Journal’ which showed that a specific yogic breathing exercise pranayama (or alternate nose breathing), helped to lower pulse rate, diastolic blood pressure as well as, respiratory rate for 36 volunteers.
How can is it done? To do this exercise, you simply first use your index finger to cover your right nostril. Now breathe in as deeply as possible through your left nostril. Then switch your finger to close your left nostril and now exhale the breath through your right nostril. Pause for 2 seconds at the bottom of each, and then restart by inhaling through your right nostril while still blocking your left. Once you inhale, switch your finger placement and repeat this process. Their experiment followed a four-week program and the study had volunteers perform this breathing exercise on an empty stomach, for 15 minutes each morning.
The simple practice of deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), responsible for activities that happen when your body is at rest. Research has shown that breathing exercises like this can have an immediate effect by altering the pH of your blood, as well as changing blood pressure. But here’s another important aspect. Breathing exercises can be the key used as a method to re-train your body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of stress hormones that do such damage.
~ Fast, Simple, Free! Fifteen minutes a day can save your life. So why not make Deep Breathing a part of your daily routine?
1. Bhargava R, Gogate MG, Mascarenhas JF. Autonomic responses to breath holding and its variations following pranayama. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1988;42:257–64
2. A.V. Turankar, S. Jain, et al. Effects of slow breathing exercise on cardiovascular functions, pulmonary functions & galvanic skin resistance in healthy human volunteers. Indian J Med Res. May 2013; 137(5): 916–921. PMCID: PMC3734683
Jeanne Ricks, CHC, is recent Director of Holistic Wellness Programs for The City College of New York. Her credentials include a bachelor’s degree; and certificates earned in health counseling through Columbia University and from the Open Center in New York, through their professional training program in herbalism covering Traditional, Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Native American traditions. Ricks is certified as a holistic health practitioner from the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and as a clinical hypnotist through the National Guild of Hypnotists. Her new book is: The Biology of Beating Stress: How Changing Your Environment, Your Body, and Your Brain Can Help You Find Balance and Peace (New Page Book (June 23, 2014).