The right breathing for our longevity

by | May 2024 | Breathing, Uncategorized

For most of us, breathing is a natural process that we don’t think too much about. If you are not familiar with more intensive breathing techniques, you will only breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth during exercise. What we modern people don’t know, however, is that ancient cultures around the world once attached great importance to breathing.

There are countless examples in history of recommendations on how human breathing can be modulated to influence our mind and body. The concept of Qi Gong, which originated thousands of years ago in China, uses coordinated posture, movement and breathing for health and spirituality. Yoga is another example of an exercise that is all about breath control and the concept that controlling our breathing is a means to increase our longevity.

In some ways, in our busy modern lives, we have almost forgotten the ability to breathe properly – which can of course have a negative impact on our health. In recent years, the way we breathe has come under much closer scrutiny, both medically and otherwise. Although clinical studies cannot currently quantify the exact benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, it has been identified as a promising treatment method for various diseases and our general well-being. Even the American Navy SEALs use breathing techniques, especially box breathing, to stay calm in the high-stress situations they are exposed to on duty.

In this post, we’ll look at the benefits that deep breathing can have on health, the biological processes that underpin breathing and we’ll give some practical tips on the breathing methods you can use to reap these benefits.

The benefits of correct breathing

Breathing signals to the body that it can relax. This means that breathing techniques can prevent stress from getting out of control, alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety or reduce the effects of panic attacks. When you are stressed, your nervous system is stimulated – this means you breathe faster, your heart rate increases, your anxiety rises and your body feels tense. By breathing slowly and fully, you can pre-empt your nervous system’s spiral of excitement and slow down your heartbeat, preventing an anxiety attack and calming yourself down.

You can lower your blood pressure through regular breathing exercises. A study has shown that breathing exercises can be a possible first-line treatment for people with high blood pressure. Breathing exercises can improve lung capacity, which is of great benefit both in sporting terms and in terms of better health in later life.

As already mentioned, deep diaphragmatic breathing can reduce body tension. This means that the use of breathing techniques can help with headaches and physical pain.

Breathing exercises improve our body’s resilience and reduce the effects of stress on our body (too much cortisol, the stress hormone, can have a long-term negative impact on our health). Through regular breathing exercises, we achieve a sympathovagal balance between the two sides of the body’s nervous system and improve our ability to react to physical and mental stress.

Due to the body’s relaxation response to deep breathing (and the potentially increased flow of oxygen to the muscles), the use of breathing techniques can also increase the amount of physical energy we can possess at one time.

Breathing deeply through the nostrils can focus us, which is one reason why it can ground us psychologically.

Breathing exercises have been shown to help with insomnia – and using these techniques for twenty minutes before bedtime has shown that people with insomnia fall asleep three times faster than usual and also have a better night’s sleep, with less frequent waking during the night. For those who do not suffer from insomnia, the quality of sleep is also improved.

The biology of breathing

When you inhale, your diaphragm moves downwards as your lungs fill with air, pushing your chest outwards. Your heart enlarges slightly and slows down the blood flow. Your brain then tells the heart to speed up the blood flow and you feel a surge of energy. Under normal circumstances this is fine, but when combined with the body’s fight or flight response (triggered by stress or anxiety) this can lead to a racing heart, nervous energy and a feeling of tension in the body. For this reason, panicked, deep breaths and weak exhalations can increase the stress our body feels.

Conversely, your diaphragm moves back up as you exhale and your heart shrinks as the air leaves your lungs. The blood flow speeds up again and your brain tells the heart to slow it down. This makes you feel relaxed and signals to your body that you are safe and can rest. For this reason, controlled breathing with targeted exhalation can bring calm and control over our emotions.

So what breathing exercises can we use to control our breathing rhythm and reap the benefits mentioned above?

Breathing techniques

Box breathing
This method used by the Navy SEALs is a mindfulness technique that helps with stress management. The name of the method is derived from the four phases into which it divides breathing – similar to breathing along the four edges of a box.

Breathe all the air out of your lungs. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four and fill your lungs and lower abdomen with air. Concentrate on how the air fills your body.

Hold your breath and count to four. Then breathe out through your mouth and count to four. Concentrate on expelling all the air from your lungs with this exhalation. Keep your lungs empty for four seconds and repeat the process if necessary.

Abdominal breathing
A simple technique where you focus on the air flowing into your diaphragm and train your body to breathe deeper into your diaphragm.

Start by breathing through your nose, fill your belly with air and breathe out of your mouth for at least two to three times as long as you breathe in. Make sure that your neck and shoulders remain relaxed.

Breathing with pursed lips
As mentioned in the first paragraph, some of you may be familiar with this very simple method to reduce the number of breaths you need and increase airflow so you can be more physically active.

Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth for at least twice as long by pursing your lips.

Cardiac coherence
An exercise that regulates the breathing rhythm by increasing the heart rate when inhaling and slowing it down when exhaling.

Breathe in through your nose for six seconds, pause, breathe out for four seconds.

The 365 Method
This therapist-recommended method of combating long-term stress is a great way to reap the long-term benefits of good breathing.

Breathe slowly six times a minute for five minutes three times a day (using the cardiac coherence technique described above). Repeat this exercise every 365 days of the year.

Wim Hof breathing method (deep breathing)
Made famous by Wim-Hof, the extreme athlete known as the “Iceman”, who is convinced that the human body is able to withstand extreme temperatures through breathing techniques by regulating the breath.

Breathe in deeply through your nose and breathe out gently through your mouth. Repeat this for the next 30-40 breaths. On the last breath, exhale 90% and then hold your breath for as long as possible.

When your body needs the next breath, inhale fully and hold it for fifteen seconds before releasing it. Repeat this exercise 3-6 times. You will find that you find it increasingly easier to hold your breath for longer. To begin with, try not to breathe for 30 seconds, then you can increase your breathing. It is quite possible that you will be able to hold your breath for more than 1-2 minutes after just a few days.

An added extra to any of these exercises can be to think calming thoughts as you breathe, which will give you a sense of mental well-being.

Think a positive thought every time you breathe in, e.g. “I am breathing in well-being”. Every time you exhale, imagine that you are pushing your worries out of your body.


Modern research is investigating the link between the way we breathe and the effects this has on our bodies – but even our ancestors (supported by modern studies) have shown that by controlling our breathing we can achieve numerous immediate and long-term health benefits for our bodies.

We hope that this article has made you think more about your breathing – and that it has given you methods that will help you with anxiety and increase your overall life expectancy.