How breathing slowly can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of serious health conditions

Alison BRC

Slowing down your breathing is well known to help with relaxation, but recent research suggests it might also help to treat high blood pressure. Researchers at Bournemouth University have created a therapeutic breathing exercise app called Brythm, which guides people to breathe more slowly and deeply, using a personalised protocol.

The research is being led by Professor Alison McConnell, a physiologist who has previously undertaken research showing the positive effects of breathing muscle strength training on exercise tolerance for athletes as well as people with cardiovascular or respiratory disease.

“Our new anti-hypertension app has been developed to provide people with a personalised training programme that adapts their breathing rate according to their individual physiology,” explains Professor McConnell, “It’s designed to be used for just ten minutes per day using a smart phone or tablet, which fits easily into most people’s busy lives.

“The app monitors your heart rate and other features via a small finger cuff that’s connected to your phone or tablet. This monitors your cardiovascular responses, guiding breathing to a rate of around six breaths per minute, which is about half the normal rate.”

Professor McConnell is carrying out research to find out more about the effects of the Brythm app for different groups of people who have high blood pressure. She has recently secured funding for a PhD student to work with pregnant women who have pregnancy induced hypertension.

“This will be a really interesting group to work with, as irregular breathing might be one of the factors that leads to development of pregnancy induced hypertension,” says Professor McConnell, “Pregnant women are also unlikely to have other serious health conditions or be undergoing other treatments that might affect their responsiveness to Brythm, which will make it easier to test whether there is a link between slower breathing and hypertension.”

“We’ve partnered with the National Childbirth Trust, which is helping us to develop Brythm and to make contact with pregnant women who can help with the research. We hope that our preliminary results will eventually lead to full clinical trials.”

Professor McConnell’s ultimate aim is to be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Brythm app for different groups of people and see it rolled out across the NHS as a simple and cost-effective way of improving health and preventing more serious medical conditions, such as strokes, which are linked to high blood pressure.

“High blood pressure can lead to a number of very serious medical conditions,” explains Professor McConnell. “If we can show that short daily sessions of slower breathing have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, then hopefully we can make a huge difference to people’s lives and reduce long-term costs to the NHS.”

To find out more and try out the Brythm app for yourself, drop into the Festival of Learning at Poole Quay on Sunday 9 July.

This story featured in the Bournemouth Research Chronicle, which can be read online or downloaded.