Studies also show that focusing on your breathing can alleviate stress levels… stimulate brain growth… and reduce your risk of heart attack. Nonetheless, many of us neglect to address breathing habits as part of our overall health strategy.
“We take our breath for granted the way we take our heart beat for granted,” says Carla Ardito, a breathing expert at the Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan. But, explains Ardito, the difference is fundamental, because unlike our heart beat, ” we can work on our breathing.”
The Steep Risks Of High Blood Pressure
Statistics indicate as many as 65 million Americans have hypertension (dangerously high blood pressure). Hypertension brings an elevated risk of…
- Heart attacks
- Kidney damage
Individuals with hypertension are often unaware of their condition—which is why it’s often called “the silent killer.” By the time symptoms appear, serious, irreversible damage may already have occurred.
Deep Breathing Offers Answers
Anderson and other doctors believe deep breathing offers answers—and a 2002 study suggests they’re right. In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a device designed tolower blood pressure by teaching users to slow their breathing. The device, called RESPeRATE, measures your breathing pace by sensing chest or abdominal movements.
Users follow a series of chimes signaling inhales and exhales to slow their breathing from a typical rate of 16 to 19 breaths per minute to 10 or fewer. Clinical trials found blood pressure drops of 10 to 15 points for individuals who used the device for 15 minutes each day for 2 months.
Dr. William J. Elliot, who headed some of the research, was surprised by the magnitude of slow-breathing’s impact on blood pressure—even though no one can quite explain why it works. It “is still a bit of a black box,” he says.
Health’s Hefty Price Tag?
More than a decade has passed since the FDA approved the RESPeRATE, but many are still unaware of the connection between slow-breathing and blood pressure. Part of the problem may be the high cost of leading slow-breathing devices. But the fact is, you don’t need to spend money to slow your breathing and improve your health.
Simply by focusing on your breathing, you direct energy into the parasympathetic nervous system, says Ardito. You send your whole body into a state of “relax and receive.”
Don’t Count Your Breaths
For best results, experts say you should never count your breathing or watch the clock. Counting or tracking the time impedes relaxation, which is key to the benefits of slow-breathing. Instead of a stopwatch or timer, some experts suggest using music as a regulator. Select a song (or set of songs) with a slow, regular rhythm, and allow your breathing to automatically adjust to the beat.
If scientists found a way to lower your risk of death from all causes by 20%, that discovery would be immediately broadcast on every major network, newspaper, and online information hub, right? Wrong.
In 2013, researchers form the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that people who made one simple nutritional choice daily dramatically decreased their risk of death. Their findings, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), showed that by a handful of nuts daily, individuals became 20% less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period.
In a Nutshell: An Ounce a Day Keeps Death Away
The researchers analyzed data collected from almost 120,000 people over three decades. The information for the analysis came from the Nurses’ Health Study (conducted with 76,464 women between 1980 and 2010) and the Health Professionals’ follow-up study (which included 42,498 men from 1986 to 2010).
Participants in both studies filled out detailed food questionnaires every two to four years. Both questionnaires specifically asked participants to estimate how often they consumed a serving (one ounce) of nuts.
When analyzing the questionnaires, the researchers used sophisticated statistical tools to subtract the effect of other factors that could have beneficially impacted risk of death. They discovered that a number of factors were linked to high nut intake, including body fat percentage, fruits and vegetable consumption, physical activity level, and avoidance of tobacco and alcohol.
But the researchers were able to neutralize the impact of these linked factors. “In all these analyses,” explained first author Dr. Ying Bao, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, ”the more nuts people ate, the less likely they were to die over the 30-year follow-up period.”
While Bao and the others acknowledged it would be impossible to account for every single difference between those who regularly ate nuts and those who did not, they said it was “unlikely” any of those differences affected the results.
Why Health “Nuts” Live Longer
The results linked nut consumption to a total reduction in death rate across a multitude of frequently fatal chronic conditions, such as…
- Heart disease
Dr. Charles Fuchs, lead author, noted, “The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29% in deaths from heart disease, the major killer of people in America.” Fuchs and his fellow scientists believe the decline in death rates came from a combination of health benefits.
Nuts appear to promote reductions to key factors linked to the development of chronic diseases, like…
- Oxidative stress
- Adiposity (stored fat)
- Insulin resistance
That last effect, reduction of inflammation, is likely responsible for nuts’ connection to an 11% decrease in your risk of dying from cancer.