Breathing exercises can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s
A new USC study found that regular breathing exercises can reduce Alzheimer’s risk by lowering the levels of amyloid beta peptides in our blood.
This study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is perhaps the first to discover that adults of all ages can lower their levels of amyloid beta through breathing exercises.
The relationship between breathing and heart rate
Breathing has a direct impact on our heart rate, which in turn affects our nervous system and how our brain produces and breaks down proteins.
When we are awake and active, we use our sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight or flight” system. This system is used to train, focus attention, and create long-lasting memories.
During activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the time between individual heartbeats varies little.
On the other hand, when our parasympathetic system is activated, the heart rate increases when we inhale and decreases when we exhale.
This is sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest” part of our system, which allows us to calm down, digest food easily, and sleep soundly. When these activities occur, the variation between heartbeats is greater.
Age-related decrease in access to the parasympathetic nervous system
As we age, our ability to access our parasympathetic nervous system decreases dramatically.
A 2020 study found that between the ages of twenty and sixty, heart rate variability decreases by an average of 80 percent.
This decrease in heart rate variability could partially explain why we struggle to sleep soundly as we age.
The connection between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and Alzheimer’s disease
According to the team, “We know that the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems affect the production and secretion of Alzheimer’s-related peptides and proteins.
Despite this, there is very little research into how these physiological changes with aging might contribute to the factors that make it conducive or not for someone to develop Alzheimer’s.”
Breathing exercises to increase heart rate variability
To study the effects of breathing exercises on amyloid beta levels, researchers at USC, UC Irvine, and UCLA asked participants to perform biofeedback exercises twice a day for 20 minutes each.
Half of the group was instructed to think of quiet things like a beach scene, a walk in the park, or listening to quiet music.
In the meantime, they were instructed to keep an eye on their heart rate displayed on the laptop screen and to make sure the heart rate trace stayed as stable as possible during the meditation.
The other group was instructed to pace their breathing with a pacemaker on the laptop screen. They breathed in when the square rose and breathed out when the square fell.
They also monitored their heart rate, which tended to rise in spikes on inhalation and drop to baseline on exhalation. Her goal was to increase the breath-induced oscillations in her heart rate.
Results of the study
After four weeks of biofeedback training, the researchers drew blood samples from the participants and analyzed the plasma of the participants in both groups for amyloid beta peptides.
The study found that the group that breathed slowly and tried to increase their heart rate variability (HRV) by increasing oscillations had decreased plasma levels of both amyloid beta 40 and 42.
Researchers are still trying to figure out why the peptides decrease when HRV increases.
Overall, this study suggests that incorporating regular breathing exercises that increase heart rate variability may help reduce levels of amyloid beta peptides in the blood and potentially reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
While this study is certainly promising, there is still much to be learned about the mechanisms behind the relationship between heart rate variability and amyloid beta levels, and more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits of this type of intervention.
Nonetheless, this study provides further evidence of the important connections between our physical health and cognitive function.
It highlights the potential of simple, non-pharmacological interventions to promote brain health and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline.
If you are interested in Alzheimer’s, please read Studies on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and new non-drug treatments may help prevent Alzheimer’s.
For more information on brain health, see recent studies Antioxidants that could help reduce the risk of dementiaAnd Coconut oil may help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was conducted by Jungwon Min et al. carried out published in scientific reports.
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