Sympathetic nerve activity is decreased during device-guided slow breathing - Oneda et al. (2010)

Key Points

  • Device-guided slow breathing (<10 breaths/min) decreased blood pressure, heart rate, and sympathetic nerve activity in mildly hypertensive patients

  • These results are helpful to diabetics, who spend more time in a sympathetic state

The Breathing Diabetic Summary

We know from previous research that diabetics spend more time in a sympathetic state and do not display the correct oscillation from sympathetic-dominant in the morning to parasympathetic-dominant at night.  Therefore, I am always intrigued to see papers that are studying how breathing can reduce sympathetic activity.  Specifically, this paper set out to see the affects of slow breathing on sympathetic nerve activity, blood pressure, and heart rate.

The study had 27 participants that were mildly hypertensive, 14 in the breathing group and 13 in the control group. The patients in the breathing group laid down and listened to a musical device that guided their inhales and exhales with sound for 15 min.  The patients slowly reduced their breathing frequency to below 10 breaths per min.  The control group participants laid down and listened to calm music.

Both groups showed reductions in their heart rates and blood pressures.  However, only the slow-breathing group showed significant reductions in sympathetic activity.

We have seen similar results in other studies.  However, it is important to reiterate these important findings over and over again: Slowing down your breath reduces sympathetic activity.  Let’s start (or continue) practicing Principle 1 to reap these amazing benefits for our already-overworked autonomic nervous systems.

Abstract from Paper

It is known that slow breathing (<10 breaths min–1) reduces blood pressure (BP), but the mechanisms involved in this phenomenon are not completely clear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the acute responses of the muscle sympathetic nerve activity, BP and heart rate (HR), using device-guided slow breathing (breathe with interactive music (BIM)) or calm music. In all, 27 treated mild hypertensives were enrolled. Muscle sympathetic nerve activity, BP and HR were measured for 5min before the use of the device (n=14) or while subjects listened to calm music (n=13), it was measured again for 15min while in use and finally, 5min after the interventions. BIM device reduced respiratory rate from 16±3 beats per minute (b.p.m) to 5.5±1.8 b.p.m (P<0.05), calm music did not affect this variable. Both interventions reduced systolic (-6 and -4mmHg for both) and diastolic BPs (-4mmHg and -3mmHg, respectively) and did not affect the HR (-1 and -2 b.p.m respectively). Only the BIM device reduced the sympathetic nerve activity of the sample (-8burstsmin–1). In conclusion, both device-guided slow breathing and listening to calm music have decreased BP but only the device-guided slow breathing was able to reduce the peripheral sympathetic nerve activity.

Journal Reference:

Bruna Oneda, Katia C Ortega, Josiane L Gusmao, Tatiana G Araujo, and Decio Mion Jr, (2010) Sympathetic nerve activity is decreased during device-guided slow breathing, Hypertension Research, 33, 708–712, doi:10.1038/hr.2010.74.