How Breathwork Helps Keep Your Heart Healthy

September 28, 2021, Publisher: Breath Hub

In observance of World Health Day on September 29, in this article, we’re focusing on the connection between breathing and our heart. It’s fairly simple; a healthy heart means a healthy life. But did you know that you can protect the health of your heart with breathing exercises?

Here are the 4 ‘hearty’ benefits of breathwork.

1. Optimizes heart rate variability (HRV)

The heart does not work like a metronome; it beats in parallel with the changes in our bodies caused by many factors such as exercise, hormonal reactions, stress, and cognitive processes. When we get excited, for example, our heart beats faster, and before we fall asleep, it slows down. HRV is directly affected by respiration as well. The heart rate tends to fasten as we inhale and slow down as we exhale. This variation in the interval between consecutive heartbeats is called heart rate variability. An increased heart rate variability suggests that a person is emotionally balanced and can respond appropriately when faced with various stimuli. On the other hand, people with reduced heart rate variability are at higher risk for many chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and depression. 

  • What is the connection of HRV to the sympathetic and parasympathetic activities of the nervous system?

Sympathetic activities are our fight or flight mode. They activate the production of stress hormones and increase the number of heartbeats. This makes it easier for us to take action and react physically. On the other hand, parasympathetic activities are our rest and digest mode. They slow down the heart and relax our minds and bodies.

The natural division of labour between these two systems continue throughout the day, and our hearts continuously play along with this division to quickly respond to different situations and needs.

  • How does stress affect HRV?

The HRV levels change from day to day depending on our stress levels, but chronic stress can disturb the natural interaction between the two systems, resulting in a constant dominance of sympathetic activity in the body. This situation is taxing both physically and mentally and can even cause health problems.

  • What is the connection between the autonomic nervous system and the respiratory system?

When the experts revealed the direct connection between this process and the respiratory system, we discovered the natural off button of the ‘stress response’. It is possible to reactivate this natural process and have a healthy HRV simply by breathing in and out. But how exactly?

As we breathe in, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, and heart rate accelerates. As we breathe out, the parasympathetic nervous system becomes dominant, and the heart rate slows down. In addition, rapid breathing turns on the sympathetic activity, and slow breathing stimulates the parasympathetic activity.

  • How to breathe to regulate HRV

HRV is a precise measure of variation in milliseconds between your heartbeats. However, you can still see this difference by taking your pulse to feel how extending your exhalations slows down your heart rate. To relieve chronic stress and overexcitement, you can take slow breaths, extend your out-breaths and, therefore, increase parasympathetic activity and give your heart a rest.

2. Decreases stress levels

Stress is an inevitable part of our lives. But being under intense amounts of stress for long periods causes not only heart problems but many other diseases. By learning how to deal with stress and control our stress responses, we can improve our health and protect our hearts.

  • How do slow and deep breaths relieve stress?

The most effective technique to instantly reduce stress is taking deep and slow breaths. This type of breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and decreases the sympathetic activity responsible for the stress response. 

Slow and deep breathing, one of the best relaxation techniques, has been scientifically proven to be effective in the treatment of stress-related disorders, including heart diseases.

3. Helps produce nitric oxide that protects our heart

As we breathe in and out through our noses, we produce a heart-healthy chemical: nitric oxide. As nitric oxide is most produced in sinuses, nose breathing is essential to create this valuable molecule. 

  • What good does nitric oxide do?

This chemical which helps expand blood vessels, is vital for a healthy cardiovascular system. It improves blood circulation – supporting the optimum transmission of oxygen to all our organs and reducing the risk of a heart attack. It also protects cardiovascular health by curbing the build-up of plaque in the veins.

4. Increases oxygen levels

During deep breathing exercises, we inhale higher amounts of oxygen. More oxygen in the lungs means less workload for our hearts. The heart that pumps blood into our lungs for oxygenation slows down its rate. In turn, we get more oxygen with fewer heartbeats.

  • Why are increased oxygen levels important for our hearts?

Deep breathing exercises help regulate abnormal heart rhythms - including tachycardia - and improve blood circulation, therefore lowering blood pressure. Slow and deep breathing has been proven to reduce hypertension.

Breath Hub offers hundreds of breathing and meditation sessions to improve your health physically, psychologically, and emotionally. If you want to invest in your health, why not begin your breath journey today?