How to choose the most effective breathing app
Updated: Feb 10
You decided to practice breathing exercises. How to choose the most effective breathing app?
Follow along breathing exercises are quickly becoming a new popular trend among health enthusiasts. They are scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, improve work focus and night sleep, wake you up for a day full of energy or prepare for a great workout.
Breathing exercises developed over the centuries along the development of Asian mindfulness practices and yoga. The modern science has proven that they provide immense health benefits. Here is a very simplified explanation of how they work. Modulating the ratio of inhale and exhale length as well as the length of hold periods between inhale and exhale cycles regulates the balance between your sympathetic nervous system, responsible for fight or flight behaviour, and parasympathetic nervous system responsible for rest and digest.
For example, probably the most famous breathing exercise for calming is boxed breathing. It emphasises deeper breathing and longer hold periods. You breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds and hold again for 4 seconds. This exercise activates parasympathetic nervous system and calms us. It has been proven so effective that they teach it to the US Marines.
On the opposite, emphasising longer inhales and short and energetic exhales activates sympathetic nervous system. A breathing exercise which consists of 4 second inhales and 2 second energetic exhales with very little pause between them will provide an excellent start for your day full of energy.
There are several mobile apps which facilitate guided breathing exercises. Their functionality is very similar. Most of them display a breathing guidance of some sort, i.e. a circle which expands on breath in and contracts on breath out. A user can set a different length of each breathing cycle component. How do you choose the most efficient app out between those available?
A recent scientific paper suggests that breathing apps which produce more visualisation produce better results both subjectively and objectively . Here is where BreatheNow app leads the pack. It has a very simple design and its breathing circle is very easy to follow. However, BreatheNow app also takes a measurement of your heart rate during a breathing exercise. To do this one needs only to cover a camera and flashlight at the back of the phone with their finger. After breathing exercise is over, the app shows the change in heart rate and stress level at the beginning and at the end of exercise. Very easy to understand if you focused sufficiently on the exercise or need to repeat it for more effect.
Creators of the BreatheNow app used a scientific method Heart Rate Variation (HRV) for understanding the balance between a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and derive a change in stress level. HRV is extracted from heart rate measurements. Heart rate is measured with the help of a phone camera in this app, so the accuracy of such a measurement is not super precise. Also, in addition to breathing exercise outcome HRV depends on some other factors, i.e. your current emotional state. The creators of BreatheNow are pointing out, that heart rate and stress level changes measured by the app should be viewed as directional only and should not be considered as a medical advice.
One can check objectively the effectiveness of breathing exercises delivered by BreatheNow by taking a blood pressure measurement before and after the breathing exercise for high blood pressure. Use this simple technique daily and observe reduction of your blood pressure. As someone who has suffered from anxiety and high blood pressure I found these simple exercises to work very well. Use also BreatheNow app to make your yoga or meditation exercises more effective.