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Three Ways that Breathing Exercises May Help You Live Longer

Three Ways that Breathing Exercises May Help You Live Longer

Nick Heath, PhD Nick Heath, PhD
4 minute read

For breath is life, and if you breathe well, you will live long on earth.” – Sanskrit Proverb

 Many ancient traditions believed breath control was the key to living longer.  This makes sense intuitively: if we’re not breathing, then we’re not living.  So, if we can figure out how to breathe better, perhaps we’ll live longer?

Modern scientific evidence suggests this may be true, and the breath-longevity connection holds up in several ways.  In this post, we’ll look at three ways our breathing can support healthy aging and longevity, starting with the most recognizable: stress reduction.

 1. Stress Reduction

Stress reduction is the foundation of breathing for longevity.  You likely don’t need any convincing that chronic stress exacerbates many health issues.  But longevity studies have indeed found that having a positive attitude and less worry, fear, and anxiety will help us live longer.

From a breathing perspective, slow, diaphragmatic breathing is the cornerstone of breathing for less stress.  This technique activates the calming branch of the nervous system and synchronizes electrical activity in the brain, which lowers stress hormones and elicits deep relaxation.

 Thus, by consistently practicing slow, diaphragmatic breathing exercises, we’ll significantly lower our stress levels, which may enhance our ability to live longer (not to mention the improved quality of life we’ll have, too).

2. Heart Health

 Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.  Thus, it goes without saying that anything we can do to protect and strengthen our hearts will aid us in living longer.

Slow, diaphragmatic breathing is also helpful here.  Specifically, when we slow our breathing rate to around 6 breaths per minute, we do three key things to improve our cardiovascular health. 

First, we increase heart rate variability (HRV).  HRV is the variation of the time interval between heartbeats.  It serves as a general indicator of heart health.  A meta-analysis of over 200 studies found that slow breathing can increase HRV during practice, immediately afterward, and even increase our baseline HRV if we do it regularly.

Second, we reduce blood pressure.  Since elevated blood pressure increases our risk of cardiovascular disease, keeping it in range is key to living a long and healthy life.  Slow breathing can help us do just this.  Studies have consistently shown that slow breathing can significantly reduce blood pressure, and the American Heart Association even acknowledges slow breathing as a supplemental treatment for hypertension.

Third, we reduce oxidative stress.  Oxidative stress occurs when free radical production exceeds the body’s antioxidant defenses.  It is associated with adverse effects such as chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease.  Slow breathing, on the other hand, has consistently been found to reduce oxidative stress, providing another way it can potentially protect our hearts and aid in longevity. 

3. Lung Capacity and Longevity

The third way breathing may aid in living longer is by increasing lung capacity.  Breathing exercises increase rib mobility and strengthen respiratory muscles, allowing greater lung expansion and more efficient use of oxygen.

This is crucial to longevity because lung capacity is directly related to a longer life.  In fact, a large-scale study on cardiovascular risk, which included over 14,000 people, had a surprising finding: people with greater lung capacity lived longer (see this previous post for more).

Altogether, breathing exercises may increase our lifespan through various mechanisms, such as reducing stress, improving heart health, and expanding lung capacity.  Of note, these three benefits are related and interdependent, a byproduct of the holistic nature of relaxation therapies such as breathing exercises.

With this information, may you breathe better and live long on this earth.

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