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Deep Breathing Exercises
By Dr. Neil Nedley

            Exercising muscles requires an abundant supply of oxygen. For this reason, maximal physical performance necessitates deep breathing. However, most people don't think it is obvious that deep breathing has profound effects on mental perfor¬≠mance. This section, however, deals with the benefits of deep breathing apart from physical exercise.

            A simple, readily available test in many doctors' offices is an oxygen saturation test. A probe is placed on a finger or earlobe and a blood oxygen saturation is measured. A blood oxygen saturation of less than 95 percent is associated with decreased ability to perform complex mental tasks.  When a person is sitting in a classroom, in church, or even on the sofa socializing or watching television, the blood oxygen saturation often drops 10 levels less than 95 percent. This can happen even though they may have a completely healthy pair of lungs. Why does it occur? Because of shallow breathing, which in turn is often associated with poor posture.

           One study showed that lower oxygen levels adversely affect mood, and also have several other consequences as outlined in Figure 5.

Effects of low oxygen level
            Another study examined blood oxygen levels in cardiac patients and normal subjects during both spontaneous breathing and periods of controlled breathing to determine the effect of respiratory rate on arterial oxygen saturation. Controlled breathing at a rate from 3 to 15 breaths per minute improved blood oxygen levels, but ideal oxygen levels were reached during deep breathing at 3 to 6 breaths per minute. To prevent shortness of breath while breathing only three times a minute, it is imperative that the breaths be very deep.

            Since maintaining three breaths a minute throughout a normal day's activities seems unrealistic, Dr. Bernardi, the study's lead author, had participants do slow, deep breathing at six breaths per minute for one hour a day. This not only improved blood oxygen levels during the exercises but also throughout the entire day. it also had a pleasant side effect of improved exercise tolerance in patients with a heart condition. This improvement was additive to other forms of treatment.

            Interestingly, the value and importance of deep breathing given by modern researchers was recognized 100 years ago by Ellen White. She wrote, "The one who sits and stands erect is more likely than others to breathe properly. But the teacher should impress upon his pupils the importance of deep breathing. Show how the healthy action of the respiratory organs, assisting the circulation of the blood, invigorates the whole system. [It] excites the appetite, promotes digestion, and induces sound, sweet sleep, thus not only refreshing the body, but soothing and tranquilizing the mind. And while the importance of deep breathing is shown, the practice should be insisted upon. Let exercises be given which will promote this, and see that the habit becomes established."

            It is important to maintain proper posture, especially for people who are depressed or are not handling stress well. I encourage my patients to utilize deep breathing techniques during their physical exercise session. Throughout the rest of the day, when conscious of their breathing, they are to attempt to breathe deeply six breaths pet minute. At first it will require the use of a watch and taking a breath every ten seconds, but after some practice they will be able to do this without looking at a watch. I also encourage deep breathing while performing the next lifestyle measure, "classical music therapy."

DepressionFrom the book
Depression, the Way Out,
Nedley  Publishing, Ardmore, OK, 2001


Neil Nedley, M.D.,
Nedley Health Solutions
P. O. Box 1565
Ardmore, OK 73402

Toll-free: 1-888-778-4445
Phone: 1-580-226-8007
Fax: 1-580-223-2645