Breathing-control lowers blood pressure - Grossman et al. (2001)

Key Points

  • 10 minutes a day of slow breathing significantly reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure

  • Blood pressure reduction is likely caused by a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity

The Breathing Diabetic Summary

Continuing on our recent theme of slow breathing and blood pressure, this is yet another study showing the efficacy of slow breathing for reducing blood pressure.  This one is a little different, however, in that it was double blinded and the control group also used a form of relaxation (as opposed to no intervention at all).  But, as we’ll see, slow breathing still elicited greater reductions in blood pressure than relaxation alone.

The study had 18 subjects in the breathing treatment group and 15 in the control group. All subjects had essential hypertension.  The control group simply listened to relaxing music for 10 min each night.  The treatment group also listened to relaxing music, but it gradually guided them toward slower breathing rates until they reached their lowest sustainable breathing rate.  The experiment lasted 8 weeks.  The study achieved double blinding by hiring an outside service to deliver the breathing device or music player and provide instructions for using them.  The patients did not know the purpose of the study; they only knew that they would be receiving a device of some kind as part of their participation.

I know I’m repeating myself a lot with these papers, but this is yet another study where the participants did not change their medication.  The breathing intervention was complementary…that is the amazing part of breathing, because it has no negative side effects, you can add it on to whatever treatment plan you are currently using.

Based on both clinical and home measurements of blood pressure, slow breathing reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure significantly more than the relaxing music alone.  Furthermore, the patients achieved high compliance with the breathing protocol, indicating that it was easily sustained over 8 weeks (2 months).  Similar other papers on the topic, the authors suspect that slow breathing reduced blood pressure by reducing sympathetic nervous system activity.

Overall, this paper showed that breathing slowly for only 10 minutes a day can significantly reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients. Again, no other changes were made to diet, medication, or physical activity. At this point, it almost seems silly not to incorporate slow breathing into our daily routines! Maybe we should start practicing Principle 1 right now?

Abstract from Paper

We hypothesise that routinely applied short sessions of slow and regular breathing can lower blood pressure (BP). Using a new technology BIM (Breathe with Interactive Music), hypertensive patients were guided towards slow and regular breathing. The present study evaluates the efficacy of the BIM in lowering BP. We studied 33 patients (23M/10F), aged 25–75 years, with uncontrolled BP. Patients were randomised into either active treatment with the BIM (n = 18) or a control treatment with a Walkman (n = 15). Treatment at home included either musically-guided breathing exercises with the BIM or listening to quiet music played by a Walkman for 10 min daily for 8 weeks. BP and heart rate were measured both at the clinic and at home with an Omron IC BP monitor. Clinic BP levels were measured at baseline, and after 4 and 8 weeks of treatment. Home BP measurements were taken daily, morning and evening, throughout the study. The two groups were matched by initial BP, age, gender, body mass index and medication status. The BP change at the clinic was 27.5/24.0 mm Hg in the active treatment group, vs 22.9/21.5 mm Hg in the control group (P = 0.001 for systolic BP). Analysis of home-measured data showed an average BP change of 25.0/22.7 mm Hg in the active treatment group and 21.2/10.9 mm Hg in the control group. Ten out of 18 (56%) were defined as responders in the active treatment group but only two out of 14 (14%) in the control group (P = 0.02). Thus, breathing exercise guided by the BIM device for 10 min daily is an effective non-pharmacological modality to reduce BP.

Journal Reference:

E Grossman, A Grossman, MH Schein, R Zimlichman and B Gavish, (2001) Breathing-control lowers blood pressure, Journal of Human Hypertension, 15, 263 – 269.