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Breathing Exercise Contributes to Lower Blood Pressure and Longer Living
It seems that breathing exercises are no longer just the preserve of yoga devotees, spiritual seekers and “health freaks”. Namely, everywhere you turn lately there are new findings about the benefits of certain types of breathing. Now it seems that our breathing may even be one of the keys to living longer.
A recent study by the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, CA, and the University of California, San Francisco, found that breathing exercises, along with other lifestyle changes, can increase levels of a substance called telomerase.
Telomerase is a key enzyme involved in repairing and rebuilding telomeres, the bundles of DNA at the end of chromosomes that control the aging of our cells. As telomeres become shorter, their structure breaks down, and the cell ages and dies. In a sense, telomerase acts like the legendary fountain of youth as it helps lengthen telomeres, keeping cells healthy and vibrant.
Telomere shortening is recognized as a risk factor for disease and premature death from many types of cancer. In the study, 30 men with low-risk prostate cancer underwent lifestyle changes that included diet, nutritional supplements, exercise, stress management, relaxation techniques, and breathing exercises. After three months, participants showed an average increase in telomerase levels of 29 percent.
Of course, breathing exercises were only one aspect of a significant lifestyle change for this study, and there is no way to assess their effect alone. However, there are numerous other cases where the benefits of breathing exercises, specifically slow breathing, were measured alone, and taken collectively, the findings have a wide range of effects on general health and longevity. These findings are associated with stress levels and blood pressure.
Stress used to be thought of as a mostly psychological condition with only short-term physical symptoms such as sweating or heart palpitations. But it is now well known that chronic stress can lead to devastating health consequences. Just one of the many hormones produced by the body under stress is cortisol. Cortisol is beneficial at normal levels, but high levels caused by stress contribute to brittle bones, reduced muscle mass, high blood pressure, and possible heart disease, among other things.
Stress also affects telomeres. In fact, it is one of the key culprits that shortens them. dr. Oz, Oprah’s resident doctor, demonstrated how stress damages telomeres and shortens lives in a July 2008 program. In his usual enthusiastic way, he explained: if you want to live longer, better control your stress!
So how do you manage stress? Of course, there are many ways to do this, but one of the oldest – and now scientifically proven effective – ways is through breathing. A racing heart and increased blood pressure with hyperventilation are classic physical responses to stress and are all related. Slow and calm breathing and the heart follows. This connection between the respiratory and circulatory systems has been known since ancient times.
Another significant way breathing affects our health and lifespan is its effect on our blood pressure. Using a method called slow breathing for 15 minutes a day has been shown to lower high blood pressure in at least a dozen rigorous clinical trials. Many thousands of people have proven the same through the practice of slow breathing in real life. The method is certainly one of the most effective – and completely safe – natural ways of lowering blood pressure.
Maintaining a healthy blood pressure not only improves health and prolongs life in the obvious way: by preventing death from heart attack or stroke. It also immeasurably improves quality of life by maintaining healthy, flexible arteries. The high pressure on the walls of our blood vessels creates resistance, making them stiffer and thicker. Thick, stiff blood vessels restrict blood flow, further increasing blood pressure. This leads to a condition called ischemia, a lack of blood supply. The final outcome is that the organs, in fact the whole body, age and die faster.
Slow breathing (it’s a bad idea to call it exercise because it’s actually very enjoyable) is just one of many lifestyle and other natural methods for managing stress and lowering blood pressure, improving and extending lives. But it has certainly been shown to be one of the most important factors, especially in terms of blood pressure control. It is not called the “breath of life” for nothing.
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