6-10 breaths per minute and diaphragmatic breathing is best. Did you know this?
If I sat you down right now with a blank piece of paper and said to you, “What causes you to feel anxious?” what would you write down on the list? Then if I was to say, put some percentages on each anxiety-trigger and turn it into a pie-chart, then how might this pie-chart look? Which piece of the pie is your greatest source of anxiety? Here’s my graph from when I was in my early 50’s and struggling with uncontrolled feelings of anxiety …. and I’m not an ‘anxious-type’ at all, although my family might argue that. But there’s something missing from this graph and until I did my doctoral studies on women’s health and ageing, I had no idea that the natural decline of oestrogen in menopause, impacts our heart, lungs and nerves contributing to our feelings of anxiety.
We all have various sources of stress that cause us to become more anxious, but the one ‘anxiety-trigger’ that you may not have written on your graph is your physiological ageing. As you continue to lose oestrogen as you pass into menopause, your nerves are ageing too. But it’s not only your nerves, it’s your heart, brain and lungs too. All of these organs lose the effect of oestrogen, contributing to feeling as if your heart rate is racing and your breathing is more ‘panicky’ and your hot flushes are out of control. When you feel over-whelmed with all the things going on in your day, this is what your anxiety feels like.
Increasing feelings of anxiety and hot flushes are the main reason menopause-HRT is prescribed to women. So, too are anti-depressants prescribed for changing mood and anxiety. HRT helps many women feel calmer and reduces their anxiety because it is replacing some of the oestrogen (and/or progesterone) lost in our body during menopause anvd the hormones from the medication attach to arious receptors on our nerves and blood vessels. Some herbs do the same too and are marketed as ‘bio-identical hormones’. It’s not a problem if you are on these powerful medications, but what else are you doing to slow down your racing heart rate and breathing? Are you putting in place some lifestyle changes too?
Once I understood that my nervous system and lungs changed in function as I got older and went into menopause, it changed my entire outlook on my feelings of anxiety.
As we transition through menopause, we are ageing. When I began to understand that the physiological changes that occur throughout our body as part of our menopause transition, send us towards our biological ageing, then it was important to look at what happens to our lungs as we lose oestrogen. Ageing produces changes in our lungs and airways and this starts in mid-life. Both the airways and blood vessels become stiffer and the air sacs lose their elasticity, making it more difficult for gases to move into the bloodstream.
As such it is easier for us to accumulate inflammation in our tiny little airways that sit inside our lungs. These are known as the aveoli.”Your lung function declines with age, like other parts of your body,” says Dr. Aaron Waxman, director of the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Your lungs finish development by age 25, and their function remains stable for about 10 years. After that, they begin to gradually decline. By age 65, you’ve typically lost up to a liter of lung capacity compared with when you were younger.”
The Physiological Effects of Slow Breathing on your Anxiety and Cardiovascular System as you Age:
If you’ve got a lot going on in your life, have you ever given your breathing a thought? No, I never used to either.
But when I felt anxious and my heart rate became elevated and took longer to return to resting after exercise (shorter-time to return to resting state is a sign of ‘fitness’ which I talk about in the Rebuild My Fitness programme), and I experienced palpitations and my blood pressure was the highest that it had ever been in my life (despite all my exercise), it slowly dawned on me, that maybe I needed to slow down my breathing. The research convinced me of this too,
According to all the studies reviewed, ‘autonomically optimised respiration’ (i.e. the rate of breathing that has a beneficial effect on the lowering of heart rate, blood pressure and stomach vagal tone), appears to be in the band of 6-10 breaths per minute, with an increased tidal volume (inspiratory and expiratory capacity) achieved by diaphragmatic activation. Nasal breathing is also considered an important component of optimised respiration for health.’ [Russo, Santerelli & O’Rourke, 2017].
Health and longevity research on HOW to change physiological parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety with improved breathing practices has only emerged in past decade. This is despite, the fact that the act of controlling one’s breathing for the purpose of restoring or enhancing one’s health has been practiced for thousands of years in Eastern cultures. I was talking about that this week in my coaching group. I know that numerous women are heading back to work this week here in New Zealand, especially Teachers. Judging by the comments in my private coaching community, feelings of anxiety rise at the start of the year. It’s why I was talking to them about how to slow breathe this week – good habits to change behaviour specific to our menopause transition take time and need to be put in place at the start of the year. How are your changes going? Is one of these changes about focusing more on your pattern and rate of breathing?
Slower breathing allows your heart rate to decrease as well as your blood pressure. The biomechanics of lung ventilation are carefully co-ordinated with blood oxygen, carbon dioxide and pH homeostasis (balance) and the slower we breathe, the better. In fact, 6-10 breaths per minute has the most effect on slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure. Russo et at, 2017). If you are feeling anxious whether at work or not, then please take note. I’m sure it’s going to be another busy, anxious year ahead – and I’m not just talking about this in the context of menopause. Lockdowns and uncertainty are still going to go on during 2021 I’m sure.
If you feel busy, time-poor, over-whelmed, over-weight and you experience, depression, anxiety, dizziness or cardiac palpitations (yes please, get these checked out), then can I motivate you to focus on controlled slow breathing at a rate of 6-10 breaths per minute? I want you to re-learn how to breathe.
Diaphragmatic breathing is best. Whilst I teach women how to do this on my 12 week MyMT™ programmes, there are also incredible coaches who are trained as Breathing Practitioners now. If you can, find one in your area for some hands-on lessons.
The beauty about knowing that the research has defined ‘effective’ breathing which has physiological benefits for our health, as a rate of 6-10 breaths per minute is ‘gold’.
Because even if you only manage a few minutes at the end of the day lying quietly on the floor or in bed, closing your eyes and concentrate on pulling your abdominal muscles in when you exhale and allowing them to expand when you inhale and slowing down your rate of breathing as much as you can, you will be on your way to reducing anxiety, heart-rate, blood pressure and yes, reducing your belly fat too.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of women who joined me on my annual January promotion for the Transform Me programme and to those incredible women who have completed the programmes and so kindly allowed me to share their stories with you. For the first time ever, I bundled the Transform Me weight loss programme up with my 12 week Rebuild My Fitness programme and women are now underway with their journey. It’s exciting to hear their progress and be able to help and support them as they go along. If you missed out, then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: If you are feeling a bit low in funds, then I also have different priced products for you. The Masterclass on Menopause is only NZ$15 (£10) and the Joint Health and Gut Health modules are are part of my Health Restoration Series and these can be purchased individually, although they are also part of the 12 week coaching programme. Just go to the ‘Programmes’ drop-down link on the website to read about these and listen to my videos to learn more.
Harvard Health Publishing (2018). Breathing life into your lungs. Online Version.https://www.health.harvard.edu/lung-health-and-disease/breathing-life-into-your-lungs.
Romieu, I. (2005). Nutrition and Lung Health. Int. J. of Tuberc Lung Dis. 9(4), 362–374.
Russo, M., Santarelli, D. & O’Rourke, D. (2017). The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe, 13, 298-309.