Breathing Exercises for High Blood Pressure: How and When
How breathing exercises for high blood pressure helped me to fix this condition and how to choose exercises which will work best for you
According to the World Health Organization over 1.1 billion people across the world suffer from high blood pressure, or hypertension (1). The good news is that in many cases one can lower high blood pressure with simple breathing exercises (2). This blog post explains how and when use breathing exercises for high blood pressure and anxiety. As someone who has suffered from both conditions in the past, I found that breathing exercises are a great natural tool which helps to cope with them.
"As someone who has suffered from both conditions in the past, I found that breathing exercises are a great natural tool which helps to cope with them. "
What Is Hypertension?
High blood pressure is higher-than-normal force of blood against walls of blood vessel walls. It forces the heart to work harder and hence creates a risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, i.e. stroke. According to the guidelines of the American College of Cardiology (3), the normal blood pressure is under 120/80 mm HG. People are more likely to develop hypertension if they have a family history of this condition, as they age or become overweight.
Some natural ways to lower risk for hypertension are managing weight, becoming physically active, eat healthy food, enjoy adequate sleep and manage stress. Getting conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol under control is critically important.
What is Anxiety?
According to the Institute of Mental Health (4), people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry most days about things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. Research (5) shows that people who suffer from anxiety are more at risk of high blood pressure. Some people may develop anxiety as a result of having hypertension. Managing anxiety with natural tools usually translates in lower blood pressure and the other way around. This certainly worked in my case.
"Managing anxiety with natural tools usually translates in lower blood pressure and the other way around. This certainly worked in my case. "
How Can Breathing Exercises Impact Blood Pressure?
Slow controlled breathing is one of the best ways to lower high blood pressure. This is because when we breathe slowly and deeply, it sends a message to the brain to relax. The brain then routes this message to the body. Those things that happen when we are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as we breathe deeply and slowly to relax. This article (6) provides detailed scientific explanation how breathing exercises work well for high blood pressure and anxiety.
When to Use Breathing Exercises to Lower Anxiety and High Blood Pressure Breathing exercises are likely to lower blood pressure quickly. The first step is to try them for yourself with taking blood pressure measurements before and after breathing. Once you have tried them and found that they actually work well, it is time to work out a daily routine. It is a good idea to practice breathing exercises on a regular basis, several times per day, as well as in certain situations when you may need help getting anxiety or blood pressure down. These can include the following.
Before taking a blood pressure measurement at home or in the doctor’s office to avoid a “white coat syndrome” and to make sure that your reading is accurate.
Before what may be a stressful situation, such as before giving a presentation at work.
Before reacting in a negative way, such as getting angry with your family member or when another car cuts you off.
Three most popular breathing exercises and how to practice them.
1. Slow breathing. 1 Minute.
Works great in most situations when you have just 1 minute to reduce stress, i.e. during a family argument or an important business meeting. This exercise is very easy, and you do not need any prompts to do it. Try to relax your face muscles and repeat 6-7 times the following breathing pattern: inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds. I found this exercise to work especially well in business meetings when I needed to calm down without attracting too much attention. The longer you breathe applying this pattern, more relaxed you become, which helps immensely to lower high blood pressure. You may want also to follow the BreatheNow breathing circle on this website which helps to stay focused on this breathing pattern for longer.
"I found this exercise to work especially well in business meetings when I needed to calm down without attracting too much attention."
2. 4-7-8 Breathing. 5-10 Minutes.
Great exercise for more relaxation, i.e. when you need to lower anxiety or high blood pressure after returning home from work. Also, this is a great exercise to do in bed for a better night sleep. This exercise helped me most to sleep better and wake up refreshed and full of energy. Here is a breathing pattern for this exercise.
1. Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
2. Hold your breath, and silently count from 1 to 7.
3. Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 8.
4. Repeat for at least one minute. Effectiveness increases with longer exercise duration.
The 4-7-8 breathing sequence is a bit more difficult to learn then the equal length inhale/exhale sequence. It is more efficient however because longer exhalation engages actively our parasympathetic nervous system which in turn sends a message to the body to relax. For even better effect make deep inhales through the nose and get all the air out of your lungs through the mouth. Here is the link to the guided breathing exercise video with this pattern.
3. Breathing plus walking exercises. 10+ Minutes
Once you tried an equal inhale/exhale interval breathing and 4-7-8 breathing, the next logical step is to expand structured breathing into other activities. For those who have a habit of walking regularly the best option is to integrate breathing into your walking routine. Combining walking and structured breathing increases positive health benefits of both activities. I LOVE walking! It helped me to fix anxiety and high blood pressure. 30min walking + breathing exercise is my key tool to relax after a busy day and enjoy recovery sleep at night. Here is how you do this exercise.
"30min walking + breathing exercise is my key tool to relax after a busy day and enjoy recovery sleep at night. Here is how you do this exercise."
As you walk, inhale to the count of four, pause for three counts and then exhale for six counts. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Walk in cadence with your breath: your breath and your strides should follow the rhythmic count of four. We breathe in over four steps, pause for three steps and then breathe out over six steps. If it’s difficult for you to breath out over 6 steps, start by exhaling over 4/5 steps and slowly build up to 6 steps. Adjust your stride accordingly. If you run the video with this exercise on your smartphone while walking it will guide you and help to perform it smoothly.
There are many types of breathing techniques to lower high blood pressure and anxiety suited for different length of time and your circumstances. Check other posts in my blog to learn more about different techniques and find detailed guidance how to practice them. Thanks for reading and stay healthy!
1. WHO, Hypertension
2. High blood pressure - this breathing exercise is ‘one of most effective’ for hypertension
3. New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension
5. Association between anxiety and hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies.
6. Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity