You need to breathe to live, but breathing benefits your life in many other essential ways, too.
Breathing helps oxygenate your muscles to promote a good range of physical motion. Breathing can also improve the quality of your airways and even has the potential to strengthen your bones.
Did you know that breathing can also benefit your heart health, especially if you have high blood pressure or are at risk for a heart attack or other heart disease?
Today, Carda is here to discuss how breathing exercises can benefit your cardiovascular health and to share a few of the best breathing exercises you can engage in to help strengthen your heart.
Read on to help improve your heart health, as well as your overall health and wellness, with Carda.
It's no secret that physical exercise is good for your body and benefits your overall health, including your cardiovascular health. In particular, engaging in aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate (such as walking, jogging, or swimming) is a leading way to promote a healthy heart.
Exercise often prompts an increased respiratory rate and more frequent breaths. However, you can also think of breathing itself, without physically moving other parts of your body, as a form of exercise, thanks to a new study. The study shows that breathing, particularly deep breathing, can help promote a healthy heart and fight off some of the leading causes of death in the United States (heart attack and stroke).
Deep breathing, also known as high-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST), is a form of exercise that can bring several different benefits to your heart health.
For one thing, stronger and more intentional breathing exercises make your heart and lungs work a little harder. This is because your cardiovascular and nervous systems are closely connected, such that the areas of your brain that dictate and regulate your heart rate and blood pressure closely align with those of your brain that regulate your breathing patterns.
When you take a deep, more focused inhale that causes your lungs to expand, the changes in air pressure and volume also cause the pressure and volume in your heart chambers and blood vessels to change.
The changes in your heart chambers and blood vessels can cause your blood vessels to expand, thanks to endothelial cells. Endothelial cells line your blood vessels, and these cells promote nitric oxide production.
When your body produces more nitric oxide, you can experience increased blood flow to your heart and throughout your body. In turn, the elevated blood flow can improve your overall circulation, lower your blood flow, and even has the potential to prevent the buildup of heart-disease-causing plaque in your arteries.
The study found that doing 30 breaths per day, as part of a breathing exercise routine, for just six weeks already lowered patients' systolic blood pressure by about 9 mm of mercury (9 mmHg). The study also found that six weeks of IMST breath exercises can also increase endothelial cell function by up to 45%. These results align with how much aerobic exercise can lower blood pressure.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath in, and exhale slowly with the knowledge that even simple breathing techniques can help you improve your heart health.
Next, let's look at some options for simple breathing exercises to help strengthen your heart so that you can build a well-rounded breathing exercise routine.
Diaphragm breathing, or belly breathing, begins by taking a deep breath through your nose. As you deeply inhale, notice the air filling your belly, causing it to rise. It may help to place your hand on your stomach so that you can tangibly notice it rise as you fill your lungs with air.
After you take a long, deep breath in through your nose, slowly exhale through your mouth, letting the air out. Try to draw out your exhale to be even longer than your inhale, and throughout the process, feel your belly slowly falling as the air exits your lungs and mouth.
To engage in slow breathing, take a deep breath in through your nose and count to four. Pause, then exhale for four seconds. Next, inhale for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds.
Now that you’ve warmed up for two breath cycles, alter your breath patterns such that your exhales slowly become longer than your inhales.
So, the next time you inhale, inhale for five seconds again, but this time exhale for six to seven seconds. Gradually increase your exhale-to-inhale ratio as you engage in slow, deep breaths for this exercise.
Often part of yoga or meditation routines, alternate nostril breathing is a calming technique that can help center your breaths and promote cardiovascular strength.
With this technique, begin by placing a left finger on your left nostril. Inhale, and hold your breath. Before you exhale, move your left finger over to cover your right nostril.
Then, exhale, letting the air out of the opposite nostril from which you inhaled. Repeat this technique with your right nostril covered as you inhale and your left nostril covered as you exhale.
Take a normal or slightly extended breath of air in through your nose, and exhale through your mouth with pursed lips. Try to make your exhale take double the amount of time as your inhale to reduce the number of breaths you take.
By reducing your breaths, you can help keep your airways open for longer to enhance airflow that strengthens your breathing and, in turn, your heart health.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique focuses on deep inhalation, a long pause, and then an even deeper exhalation. First, exhale to clear any air buildup so that you can start fresh.
Next, inhale for four seconds and pause, holding the relaxed breath you just drew in. Hold this pause for seven seconds, then begin to exhale slowly as you count to eight.
With equal breathing, the goal is to make your inhales and exhales the same length. Start by inhaling deeply, and as you smoothly fill your lungs with air, slowly count to five. Pause for a moment, then exhale, counting to five slowly again and making sure that you've released all your air by the time you finish counting.
Try several rounds of equal breathing, and each time enact a different time constraint for your breaths. Experiment to see what length of breath feels the most productive to you for this exercise.
Practice makes perfect, and you can’t have a “muscle memory” for exercises if you don’t do them often enough for your body to get used to them.
If you can, try to pick a few simple breathing exercises to practice every day. You may also want to gradually build up to engaging in a few breathing exercises daily. You can start with breathing exercises several times a week, and gradually incorporate more days until you reach a daily routine that works for you.
Even five minutes of breathing exercises a day can help to strengthen your heart — your breathing technique routine does not have to be elaborate or extensive to be effective.
Breathing exercises are an easy and important way to help strengthen your heart and improve your overall cardiovascular health. If you are at risk for cardiovascular disease, Carda is here to support you. We offer at-home virtual cardiac care on your schedule and your terms to promote heart health that makes you feel comfortable during your rehabilitation journey.
Get started today to get matched with a plan that works for you. Strengthen your heart and support your overall wellness by choosing rehab that is easier, better, and more affordable.