Researchers at the University of Southern California showed that a brief breathing session—inhaling for a count of five, then exhaling for a count of five for 20 minutes twice a day for four weeks—can have a significant effect.
The volunteers’ heart rate variability increased during each exercise period and the levels of circulating amyloid-beta peptides in their blood decreased during the four weeks of the experiment.
Accumulation of amyloid beta in the brain due to increased production and/or decreased clearance is believed to trigger the Alzheimer’s disease process.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is possibly the first to find a way adults, both young and old, can lower their amyloid beta levels: through breathing exercises that lower our blood levels of these peptides linked to Alzheimer’s. Let’s reduce disease, the team said.
That’s because the way we breathe affects our heart rate, which in turn affects our nervous system and the way our brain produces proteins and clears them away, he explained.
In the study, the team asked 108 participants, (half were young – aged 18 to 30 and half were older – aged 55 to 80), to exercise twice a day, for 20 minutes at a time.
The team also tracked their heart rates, which tended to rise in peaks during inhalation and decline to baseline on exhalation. Their goal was to increase breathing-induced oscillations in their heart rate.
Participants took blood samples before starting the experiment and again after four weeks. They examined the plasma of participants in both groups looking for amyloid beta peptides 40 and 42.
They found that the slow-breathing group decreased plasma levels of both peptides and tried to increase their heart rate variability (HRV) by increasing oscillations. Younger and older adults also showed similar effects of the interventions on plasma amyloid beta levels.
“At least to date, exercise interventions have not reduced amyloid beta levels,” said Mara Mather, a professor who directs the Emotion and Cognition Lab at USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
“Regular slow breathing exercises through HRV exercises may be a low-cost and low-risk way to reduce plasma amyloid beta levels and keep them low into adulthood,” Mather said.