Should You Really Take A Deep Breath?

You’ve heard it countless times. You probably have also uttered those timeless words of advice yourself: take a deep breath. I even wrote about it in a post about re-energizing. Taking a deep breath is supposed to make you relax. Is there scientific evidence to back up this advice?
There are certainly lots of unscientific sources advocating the benefits of deep breathing. You can find a detailed list of the benefits at breathing.com. There’s also an interesting article at healthadel.com.

There’s a theory that casinos pump oxygen through their air conditioning systems to enrich the air, causing people to sleep less and therefore have more time to gamble. According to this article the casino/oxygen theory is a myth because, according to one Fire Captain, “pumping oxygen into a casino would be a tremendous fire hazard that would greatly increase the flammability of all other objects. Any small fire, anywhere in the hotel, would be fanned and magnify itself by pumped oxygen.”

What about oxygen bars? Yes you heard right. According to Wikipedia:

An oxygen bar is an establishment, or part of one, that sells oxygen for recreational use. Individual flavored scents may be added to enhance the experience. The flavors in an oxygen bar come from bubbling oxygen through bottles containing aromatic solutions before it reaches the nostrils: most bars use food-grade particles to produce the scent, but some bars use aroma oils.”

Is the fact that I’ve only ever seen an oxygen bar in Las Vegas a total coincidence? Interesting.

So where’s the science in all of this hard breathing, or am a just blowing a lot of hot air (sorry for the painfully cheezy pun, it was just sitting there waiting to happen)? According to an article on the Southern Methodist University website, there are three studies that provide evidence that learning how to breathe correctly can improve everything from panic attacks to hypertension to chronic pulmonary obstruction.

The following three studies are copied directly from smu.edu

1) Associate Professor Thomas Ritz and Assistant Professor Alicia Meuret, both of SMU’s Psychology Department, used biofeedback to help panic patients regain control of their breathing which in turn reduced hyperventilation and panic attacks.When people hyperventilate they breathe deep and fast, and carbon dioxide in the body lowers. This can induce anxiety and panic and, if done chronically, it takes a physical toll on the body. Lower levels of carbon dioxide cause tingling in the hands and feet, restrict blood flow to the brain and can inflame airway passages. The latter is particularly problematic for asthmatics, who also suffer from a higher prevalence of panic attacks than the general population.To learn how to avoid taking deep breaths, but to breathe slow and shallow, patients in the panic study were given a hand-held biofeedback device. The device measured the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled. Using this device, patients learned how to successively breathe slower, shallower, and more regularly over the course of the four week’s treatment.

Results showed that panic patients drastically reduced the number of attacks, with a majority still free of complaints after one year. An additional pilot study showed that asthma patients were better able to control and reduce their symptoms using the same breathing techniques.

2) Israeli researchers have demonstrated a novel way to effectively treat hypertension and congestive heart failure without side effects by using paced breathing guided by a device. Patients used the device at home for 15-minute sessions each day. Seven clinical trials have demonstrated a significant reduction in uncontrolled blood pressure and in the reduction of complaints related to anxiety and physical activity in diabetic-hypertensive patients. Patients with congestive heart failure experienced therapeutic benefits and improvement in quality-of-life. How does it work? Studies suggest that the device lowers the sympathetic nervous system activity and reduces resistance to blood flow by relaxing the muscles surrounding the small blood vessels.

3) University of Michigan researchers demonstrated physical and mental benefits from breathing training with patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, common in longtime smokers. In that study, patients used biofeedback to learn how to alter their heart rate and breathing patterns to improve the efficiency of carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange in their lungs.Results from this study showed that after breathing retraining patients had higher levels of oxygenated blood, greater mobility and better tolerance for shortness of breath. Patients also reported a better overall quality of life.

The bottom line: various forms of targeted breathing can benefit different people in different ways. It certainly can’t hurt.

Here are some breathing exercises, courtesy of Dr. Andrew Weill, that you can try.

Take a deep breath…

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