Take a deep breath and see how you feel. If you notice your muscles relaxing and your thoughts slowing down, there’s a reason for that. Deep breathing has several health benefits that can lift your mood and improve your quality of life.[*]
Performing deep breathing exercises is a simple way to start taking care of your health. When you have a chronic health condition or simply want to make some improvements, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.
Start with deep breathing. It’s free, can be done at any time, and doesn’t have side effects like medications. To start easing stress and improving your health, read on to learn the health benefits of deep breathing.
What Is Deep Breathing?
Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, means taking slow, deep breaths on purpose. Diaphragmatic breathing involves the small muscle under the lungs known as the diaphragm.
When you take a deep breath in, the diaphragm contracts and moves down to make room for the lungs to fill with air. When you breathe out and empty the lungs, the diaphragm relaxes and moves back up.[*]
Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, a system of nerves that run from the brain down to the large intestine. The vagus nerve controls involuntary functions in the body like your mood, immune system, digestive system, and heart rate. By stimulating the vagus nerve, deep breathing leads to relaxation and health benefits.[*]
How Deep Breathing Works
Deep breathing allows our bodies to relax because it helps to regulate the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our “fight or flight” response and causes an increase in heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it’s common to feel irritable and anxious as well.
When you take a deep breath and stimulate the vagus nerve, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. As opposed to the “fight or flight” response, the parasympathetic nervous system causes a “rest and digest” response. When you trigger this system, your breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure all start to come down. You may also notice that you start to feel more like yourself and can think more clearly.
7 Benefits of Deep Breathing
From a better mood to lowered blood pressure, deep breathing can improve your health in a variety of ways.[*]
Chronic stress affects just about every aspect of our health. It’s estimated that up to 60% to 80% of patient visits to primary healthcare providers are related to stress. Emotional stress has been linked to a higher number of office visits and incidence of disease.[*]
A 2017 study found that regular deep breathing practices can lead to an overall increased mood and lower stress level. Study participants experienced lower heart rates and cortisol levels after breathing deeply.[*] Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, has been linked with increased levels of inflammation and disease in the body.[*]
Decrease Blood Pressure
Deep breathing has been found to lower blood pressure and help to prevent high blood pressure (hypertension).[*]
A 2019 review found that deep breathing can produce a moderate decrease in blood pressure readings. The researchers suggested that deep breathing could be an effective first step in treating hypertension, especially for individuals who are hesitant to take medication to treat it.[*]
Reduce Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal condition that causes constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, and cramping. IBS greatly affects one’s quality of life, and the symptoms can be triggered by stress.
A 2020 study found that a daily deep breathing practice can improve IBS symptoms. The study also found that participants who took part in the deep breathing program reported improved moods and higher quality of life.[*]
Improve Chronic Pain
The way we breathe affects how the brain processes pain signals. Taking deep breaths has been shown to change the way the brain perceives pain and lowers the intensity. Deep breathing can also improve feelings of tension, anger, and depression in those who experience chronic pain.[*]
Improve Posture and Strength
Breathing deeply can help to strengthen the posture muscles in the body. A small 2017 study found that participating in a daily deep breathing program improved the posture of study participants.[*] Sitting upright provides more room for the lungs to breathe, so an improved posture can make breathing deeply feel easier.
Improve Lung Function in Asthma
Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes the airways to become inflamed and tightened. A 2020 Cochrane review concluded that regular deep breathing exercises can improve lung function in individuals with asthma. Not surprisingly, when people with asthma experienced better lung function, they also reported an increased quality of life.[*] Individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may experience the same benefits from deep breathing as well.[*]
Improve Cardiac Surgery Outcomes
Deep breathing is an important part of the recovery process after surgery. A 2015 study found daily deep breathing reduces the risk of complications after cardiac surgery.[*]
How to Practice Deep Breathing
Although deep breathing is a simple practice, it takes effort and concentration to do it every day. To get started, find a comfortable place where you can relax and close your eyes. Try lying down and placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen.
To begin diaphragmatic breathing, first, breathe out to empty your lungs. Next, take a deep breath in through your nose and feel your lungs expanding. If you’re doing it right, you’ll see both your chest and abdomen rise.
Once you have filled your lungs with air, exhale through your mouth (or your nose if you prefer) and notice your abdomen move down again. Try to blow out all of the air in your lungs, and then start again.
While you are practicing deep breathing, you may notice your mind starting to wander. This is normal. Try to avoid judging yourself for this, and simply keep bringing your thoughts back to your breath.
If you could use some more support in your deep breathing practice, consider using the Somnox 2 It breathes with you to help you breathe more deeply and evenly.
To begin a daily deep breathing practice, create a routine that works for you. Set aside a small corner of your home with everything you need. You may want to have a pillow to rest on, a clock or timer to keep track of the time, and the Somnox 2 to help guide your breathing pattern.
As an extra motivational nudge, try setting a reminder on your phone or computer. Aim for one or two sessions per day to start and work your way up from there. Schedule time for deep breathing before bed and any stressful situations throughout the day. Once you develop the habit of deep breathing, you’ll likely notice the benefits right away.