The Science of Deep Breathing
We all breathe. Some of practice deep breathing — some of us don’t. Nearly every second of every day we breathe in and out—after all we need it to live! However, while breathing can seem fairly ordinary, there are actually different types of breathing, designed to help us handle different types of breathing.
Slow, even breathing can be a great approach to relaxing. Quick exasperated breaths can be used when our heart-rate is high, such as during a workout. However, one of the most powerful types of breathing is undoubtedly deep breathing.
We’ve all been there before, when we’ve felt overwhelmed by a stressful situation, and decided to take a big, deep breath to calm ourselves down. It is a simple tactic, but it works. It can really help clam you down in even the most irritating of situations.
Deep breathing is as easy as it sounds. All you need to do is to be able to stop and take one, big, cleansing breath in and then out. You can do it once, or several times in a row, depending on how your body responds.
Even though people have been using deep breathing for centuries, it wasn’t until recently that researchers started taking a deeper look at the science behind why it works.
There is an actual science behind deep breathing and why taking these big, deep, cleansing breaths really works. But a deep breath does more than just feels good—it can do so much more. This is why we are going to take a look at the science of deep breathing and what it actually does in order to benefit your mind, body and spirit.
Here are a few of the scientific benefits researchers have found with deep breathing exercises.
Deep Breathing Can Relieve Emotional Stress and Anxiety
If there is one area where there has been a lot of scientific research regarding deep breathing, it has to be on emotional stress and anxiety. While there has been lots of scientific tests on the benefits of deep breathing during times of stress and anxiety (some of which even finding it has just as much impact as medication) perhaps the most surprising studies have been on pregnant women.
Research on pregnant women who practiced deep breathing exercises three times a day for three days found that these women had significantly lower stress and anxiety during their pregnancy—and if there is one type of research participant that knows about stress and anxiety, it is pregnant women.
Taking a Deep Breath Can Engage Your Brain’s Emotional Control Regions
Most people know that taking a deep breath can help them feel better, but there is actually more science to it than that. Recent studies have found that controlling your breaths with deep breathing can influence the neuronal oscillations in the brain—particularly where it is related to emotion.
When you control your breath it can actually tap into areas of the brain that are related to awareness, memory and emotion. So, when you are stressed and decided to take a deep breath in to feel calmer. It isn’t just a coincidence that you feel better—you are actually triggering an area in your brain that can help you better regulate your emotions and focus better on the task at hand.
If you really want to get benefits such as this, try to take deep breaths for at least two full minutes to really get the impact of controlled breathing.
Controlling Your Breathing Actually Calms Your Brain
When you take big, deep, cleansing breaths in and out, you are putting a lot of focus on controlling your breath. This triggers a very specific area in the brain.
While there is still a lot of research to be done in the topic, researchers have found a link between active breath control and the calming effect it has on the brain and brainwaves. This is all thanks to a neural circuit in the brainstem that plays a key role in the breathing-brain control connection.
While research is being done on the “how” of the subject right now, scientists are certain that there is a real, measurable connection between the two.
Deep Breathing Can Help With Blood Pressure
Taking a deep breath doesn’t just feel good, it actually can also help you physically by impacting different areas of your health. This includes your blood pressure.
Recent research has found that controlled breathing and slowing down your breath to take those big, deep, breaths actually increases something known as “baroreflex sensitivity.” This is the mechanism in the body that controls heart rate and blood pressure.
If you regularly use deep breathing to lower your blood pressure and heart rate, it won’t only help with your annual checkups, but it can lessen your risk of stroke and help improve your cardiovascular health—those are a lot of perks for one little breath.
Deep Breathing Increases Energy
Let’s be honest, everyone could use a little bit of an energy boost during the day and the good news is that deep breathing exercises can actually help. This is often a surprise to many people who assume that deep breathing exercises are only for promoting a sense of calm—but they can actually increase vitality as well.
Deep breathing relieves stress, which can release energy that can be used in other areas of the body. However, it also produces increased amounts of Growth Hormone and a hormone known as DHEAS which are important for energy levels.
As an added bonus, these two hormones are also associated with the aging process and research has found that daily deep breathing exercises over an extended period of time can not only increase production of these hormones but help slow down many of the signs of the aging process.
The Rhythm of Your Breathing Can Impact Your Memory
Getting into a pattern of deep breathing is all about finding a rhythm with your breath. This is not only a part of normal, deep breathing exercises, but part of yoga, meditation and other practices that utilize deep breathing exercises.
One study that looked at breathing rhythms, most specifically slow, deep rhythms found that these rhythms actually impact memory and what things you are able to recall. This study found that people are better able to remember certain objects when inhaling, and fearful faces when breathing through the nose. They also found that inhaling can trigger activity in the hippocampus—the memory area of the brain.
Research Shows Deep Breathing Can Help With Symptoms of Depression
Depression is a very serious mental health concern, and many times people need to take a multi-faceted approach to handling their depression in order to really get back to life as normal. There have been several studies on the impact that deep breathing can have in regard to depression symptoms and found it can be extremely beneficial.
Cognitive breathing therapy, which is comprised of deep-breathing relaxation exercises, can not only help boost the mood of individuals with depression, but it can help improve their overall quality of sleep and help with anxiety as well.
Deep Breathing Can Boost the Immune System
This is one of the most interesting physical benefits of deep breathing exercises. This scientific evidence dates back to several decades ago and there is still research being done on the benefits of deep breathing and how it can boost the immune system.
Controlled breathing actually triggers what is known as a parasympathetic response, which is known to boost the immune system. Further research into deep breathing exercises and immune benefits have also found that it can help with energy metabolism and better insulin secretion.
So, next time you are feeling overwhelmed and someone tells you to stop and take a deep breath, remember, there is more to this exercise than just giving you a moment to pause—there is real scientific evidence to support the fact that deep breathing is really very good for you.
Keep this research in mind as you start incorporating deep breathing into your current routine. It is really quite simple, you just need to take a few moments of your day and focus on breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth until you start finding the calmness and peace of mind that you seek.