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Heart-healthy breathing blows stress away

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It’s American Heart Month! Take care of your heart by developing healthy breathing techniques to reduce stress, improve physical and mental health, and strengthen resilience.

Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it! When you’re less focused on your breathing, it’s typical to breathe erratically—especially when you face the stressors of day-to-day life. In turn, your heart rate can become less rhythmic, causing your heart to not function as well.

But when you have longer, slower exhales—breathing at about 4-second-inhale and 6-second-exhale paces—your heart rate rhythmically fluctuates up and down. This rhythmic variability in heart rate mirrors your inhales and exhales so that you have maximum heart rate at the end of the inhale and minimum heart rate at the end of the exhale. More importantly, this physiological shift could help you feel less stressed, anxious, or depressed—and experience better heart health.

It’s easy to go through the motions of breathing while absorbed in your own thoughts; instead, take notice of your breathing and other body sensations. Regularly tuning in to your body sensations could help you feel more resilient and ready to:

  • Adapt to change
  • Deal with whatever comes your way
  • See the brighter, or funnier, side of problems
  • Overcome stress
  • Tolerate unpleasant feelings
  • Bounce back after illnesses, failures, or other hardships
  • Achieve goals despite obstacles
  • Stay focused under pressure
  • Feel stronger

Check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Apps, Tools, and Videos for paced breathing MP3s and additional mind-body exercises. Start training your breathing and becoming more mindful today!

Switch up your heart rate a bit: Heart Rate Variability 101

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Your heart rate is (hopefully!) not steady; it should vary. The more it does so—rhythmically—the better for health and performance. And you have the power to influence it.

“Heart rate variability,” a way to track how your heart rate rhythmically goes up and down, helps you objectively assess your mind-body optimization. When your heart rate varies more, it’s good for your health and performance. Breathing at certain paces has a big impact on heart rate variability and—in turn—the mind-body connection and performance. And because you can learn to control your breathing, you can also improve your HRV. For more information about HRV and breathing to increase your HRV, read HPRC’s “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best.”

Take a deep breath and relax

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
All the added stresses of military life can leave your body’s muscles tight and sore. Deep breathing exercises can help release that excess physical tension.

Have you breathed deeply lately? Breathing’s not something we usually have to think about, so we tend to take it for granted. But our breath can be a powerful tool for relaxation and stress relief. Taking time every day to focus on deliberate breathing—that is, breathing deeply and with control—can allow your body’s relaxation response to kick in and help you de-stress.

Slow-paced and deep-breathing exercises have been widely studied for their relaxing effects on the body’s stress response system. There are several types of deep-breathing exercises you can perform, but one of the easiest and most common is just called “deep breathing” (or “diaphragmatic breathing”). HPRC has a video on Breathing Exercises for Optimized Performance that introduces three breathing strategies for human performance optimization: “Deep Breathing,” “Alternate Nostril Breathing,” and “Fast-Paced Breathing.” A longer version is available for you to practice along with the instructor, or you can download a Performance Strategies transcript that takes you through these breathing exercises step-by-step to achieve relaxation.

For more ideas on relaxation strategies, check out the Stress Management resources in HPRC’s Mind Body domain.

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