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A recent study conducted by Professor Mara Mather from USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology found that a simple breathing exercise could significantly affect heart rate variability and the levels of amyloid-beta peptides in the blood. The exercise involved inhaling and exhaling for a count of five, performed twice a day for 20 minutes over a four-week period.

Exercise increases heart rate variability

The study’s results revealed that participants experienced increased heart rate variability during each exercise session. Additionally, the levels of amyloid-beta peptides circulating in their blood decreased over the duration of the experiment. These findings suggest that breathing exercises can potentially reduce amyloid beta levels in individuals and may provide a means of lowering the risk associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Breathing significantly impacts our heart rate, nervous system, and brain function. Our sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the “fight or flight” response, is engaged when we are awake and active. It supports focus, exercise, and memory formation, resulting in minimal variation in heartbeat intervals. Conversely, the parasympathetic system, activated during rest and digestion, causes heart rates to rise during inhalation and decrease during exhalation. Individuals who are young or physically fit can easily shift between these two systems, leading to improved calmness, digestion, sleep, and greater variability in heartbeat intervals.

Heart rate variability declines as one age

According to a 2020 study utilizing smart watches, heart rate variability diminishes by approximately 80% between the ages of 20 and 60. This discovery may partially account for the challenges encountered in attaining restful sleep as individuals age.

Mather, the director of the Emotion & Cognition Lab at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, highlighted the significance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in influencing the generation and elimination of Alzheimer’s-associated peptides and proteins.

One group synchronized their breathing with a pacer on a laptop screen, inhaling when a square rose and exhaling when it dropped. They also monitored their heart rates, which peaked during inhalation and returned to baseline during exhalation.