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Simple Health Tip (and it doesn’t even involve the gym!)

Stress is rampant for both adults and even kids today. There is plenty of evidence to support that stress contributes to elevated blood pressure (BP), increased heart rate (HR) and increased respiratory rate (RR). There is also evidence to support the role of exercise in stress management and health. But did you know though that something as simple as breathing deeply can lower your RR, HR, or BP? Just as exercise and stress place different demands on your body systems, breathing can too….with positive results!

The relationship between stress and body responses like BP are very dynamic with many variables that factor into the results–variables like dietary sodium, sleep and hormone function. So stress does not act alone but we do know that stress is a key player in exciting the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS system regulates “fight or flight”….things like BP, sweating, and HR.

Through much of evolution, the nervous system has prepared the human body for fight or flight. But today the response is not often needed and can be maladaptive. Say what? This means we can develop a highly reactive system to low pressure situations. Instead of responding to a bear approaching, our nervous systems will fire when looking for a lost key, when sitting in traffic, or even with worry. This maladaptive level of behavior becomes the “new norm” for the body. So though we don’t necessarily feel severely stressed, our bodies can still respond with some degree of fight or flight response. A visible example of this is the amount of breathing that we do through our chests. And yes, you did read correctly, breathing through the chest can be a sign of this behavior…More to come on that later.

The good new is……we can manage stress responses by interrupting acute body reactions above. We can recondition our reactions to stress triggers. Breathing is a great way to do this. The medical benefits of breathing have been documented as early as the 1970’s (Dr. Herbert Benson). Those who practice yoga and meditation have been preaching the benefits for thousands of years. We are seeing more and more literature supporting the role of breathing on health all the time. There is even an FDA approved non-drug treatment for lowering BP called the RESPeRATE that uses musical tones to guide diaphragmatic breathing. Not to be cliche’, there are even apps for it.

Breathing can be a fine art in itself. Who better to teach some of the nuances than a PT…someone who studies movement for a living. Tune in tomorrow for Part II of this article where we are going to help you learn some diaphragmatic breathing strategies.


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