Using the Breath to Lower Your Blood Pressure

What is Hypertension?
Abnormally high blood pressure, or hypertension, is very common and a significant risk factor for two leading causes of death, heart attack and stroke. It can be effectively treated by lifelong medications, but might there be a simpler and less expensive way to help with mild to moderate high blood pressure? The answer could be as simple as taking a deep breath. Essential hypertension is commonly defined as a systolic blood pressure consistently over 140 and a diastolic blood pressure consistently over 90, without an identifiable cause. An estimated 50 million Americans have high blood pressure and, each year, 2 million new cases of hypertension are diagnosed. The costs for managing high blood pressure are in the billions of dollars every year. In addition, people with high blood pressure may not take their medications as prescribed because of side effects.

Lowering Blood Pressure without Drugs

There are a number of nonpharmacologic therapies that can lower blood pressure. Weight loss, stress reduction, salt restriction, regular exercise, biofeedback, and meditation have been shown to significantly reduce high blood pressure. Specific breathing techniques may also reduce high blood pressure. Many of these breathing techniques have been used in meditation as well as martial arts training for thousands of years. These breathing techniques were believed to increase lung capacity, enhance cardiac and circulatory function, reduce stress and promote an overall relaxed state of being.

The Research

In recent research from Brazil, published in the Archives of Brazilian Cardiology, participants with hypertension were able to significantly reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by practicing specific breathing techniques daily for a month. These breathing exercises focused on breathing more slowly and deeply. In this study, blood pressure dropped from an average of 135/99 to 124/81. In addition, total lung capacity also increased. This study demonstrated that practicing breathing exercises over time may reduce high blood pressure.

Meditation, regular exercise and other stress reducing techniques all focus on deep, rhythmic breathing. Researchers with background in the martial arts also recognized that slow, deep breathing patterns could lower blood pressure. They focused their study on qigong, a traditional Chinese practice of coordinated movements, breathing and meditation. They conducted a small clinical trial with a cardiac rehabilitation program and demonstrated that a daily qigong breathing practice could lower blood pressure. Deep breathing exercises affect a number of metabolic processes in the body including improving the sensitivity of the baroreflex - a blood pressure gauge in the carotid arteries and aorta. In those with hypertension, this blood pressure gauge may overshoot, causing the increase in blood pressure. Another mechanism may be that deep breathing reduces blood pressure by reducing stress hormones.

Practice Deep Breathing

Someone once said that the only thing you have control over is how you react to a situation. So relax, practice a few slow, deep breaths every day and take control over your blood pressure.

Be Well,

The Unyte Team