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Discover the benefits of deep breathing

A woman with her eyes closed and a serene expression

July 24, 2023—Breathing is a basic bodily function—and one that doesn't typically require thought. But setting aside time to focus on your breathing can benefit your mental and physical health.

Slow, deep breathing can trigger the body's natural relaxation response. How? According to the American Heart Association, controlled breathing may stimulate the vagus nerve, which signals your heart rate to slow.

That's not the only possible benefit of deep breathing exercises. According to the AHA and other experts, practicing breathing may:

  • Decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
  • Help to manage pain.
  • Improve blood sugar levels.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety.

Ins and outs of breathing exercises

Want to see how breathing exercises may help you? It's easy to get started. But put safety first: Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program—including breathing exercises. That's especially crucial if you have a lung or heart condition.

Next, choose your technique. Box breathing is a simple way to relieve stress. And if you have a lung condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, your doctor might recommend pursed lip breathing.

Deep belly breathing is an easy exercise for beginners. It's also called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. You can do this relaxed, focused practice anywhere and anytime. Just follow these simple steps:

  • Lie on your back or sit in a chair and relax. Breathe in and out normally. Notice how it feels.
  • Next, place both hands on your abdomen and inhale through your nose to fill your lower abdomen. Your belly should “fill up” like a balloon.
  • Exhale through your mouth, feeling how your belly naturally "deflates."
  • Repeat the cycle. Start with sessions of 5 to 10 minutes and work your way up to whatever length of time feels right for you.

Pro tip: To get really focused, put one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. You'll be able feel your inhalation with the hand on your belly, which will rise higher than the hand on your chest.

Looking for more ways to feel calmer and more in control? Find more tips in our Stress and Anxiety health topic center.


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