sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Breathe Your Way to Better Health

It is undisputed how important it is for our health that we ensure we are getting enough oxygen. In an earlier blog, I discussed the “Rule of Threes” which says that the average person can go three weeks without food, three days without water, and only three minutes without oxygen.

Now there is evidence that it is not only important to get enough oxygen but it is also important to be aware of how we breathe to supply our bodies with this essential gas. I’m not necessarily talking here about shallow breaths or deep breaths, but rather that we should be more aware or “mindful” of how we are breathing. The idea is that by being mindful, we can work on controlling how we breathe which, in turn, can result in a variety of physical and emotional health benefits.

There are some easy breath control practices (also known as breath work) that you may want to try and experiment with. It may only take 10 to 20 minutes a day of breath-control practices to reap the benefits. I like to think of it as part of my health and wellness regimen, like exercising and eating healthily. You can also combine your breathing exercises with your other exercises, such as walking, and get double benefit!

Basic Breathing Techniques

These basic breath work techniques include:

  • Deep abdominal breathing to encourage full oxygen exchange – that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide.
  • Pursed lip breathing where you breathe slowly and deliberately through your mouth with your lips positioned like when you are going to whistle.
  • Pattern breathing, such as the popular 4-7-8 breathing – you inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then slowly exhale for eight seconds.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing, like deep abdominal breathing – you take deep breaths while concentrating on, and engaging, your diaphragm.
  • Box breathing, another type of pattern breathing – you inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and then hold your breath again for four seconds.

There are other techniques that you may want to explore and experiment with, but these five are a great place to start. It’s also good to know that there are a variety of apps that you can download to your smartphone to help you with breath work. Some are free, such as one offered by UCLA in California, while others are subscription based. Many also include guided meditations that you can follow as you practice your breath work allowing you to do two beneficial activities at the same time.

Keep in mind that mindful breathing and breath work requires some practice, so don’t be discouraged. Also, try to do them with a minimal number of distractions. I find that doing them when I first get up in the morning, before the day’s activities take over and when it’s still quiet outside, works well for me. Try different times and environments until you find the best combination for you. And if you find your mind wandering, don’t worry. Just refocus on your breathing.

A Long List of Possible Benefits of Mindful Breathing

Proponents of mindful breathing and/or breath work point to the variety of potential health benefits, some of which may be especially attractive to those of us over 60. These may include:

  • Lowering heart rate and blood pressure
  • Improving focus and attention
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Decreasing anxiety
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving memory
  • Boosting your immune system
  • Managing pain
  • Contributing to brain health
  • Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increasing energy
  • Improving digestion/gastro function
  • Removing toxins from your body
  • Enhancing mood
  • Improving sleep

Always Consider Risk Factors First

It’s important that you talk with your healthcare provider before embarking on mindful breathing or breath work, since these practices may not be right for everyone. This is especially true if you have any contraindicated medical conditions that could make them risky. These risks include:

  • Dizziness
  • Cognitive changes
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Vision changes
  • Tingling in your extremities
  • Muscle spasms

Pay Attention to Diet and Hydration

You can greatly enhance the effectiveness and benefits of your mindful breathing and breath work by making sure that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs. Start with making sure you are drinking enough water. This will help your lungs better absorb oxygen from the air you inhale and expel carbon dioxide and other toxins as you exhale.

Be sure to include iron-rich foods in your diet. Some are meat, beef liver, chicken, chickpeas, kidney beans, oysters, fortified grains like cereals and breads, tofu, dark chocolate, spinach, tomatoes, lentils, , cashews, tuna, turkey, broccoli, raisins, and potatoes.

You should also talk with your health care provider about taking a nutrient test to make sure you are getting enough vitamins B12 and D. The former plays a key role in the production of red blood cells (these cells carry oxygen throughout your body). And the latter may help reduce any inflammation you may have in your airways.

Vitamin B12 can be found in animal foods such as eggs, poultry, fish, milk, and red meat. Since many of us who are over 60 often have problems absorbing vitamin B12 from food, we may need to take a supplement. Vitamin D can be found in fortified milk, salmon, orange juice and eggs.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you ever tried any type mindful breathing or breath work? If so, what where they? Did you did you find them helpful? If so, in what way? Did you talk with your doctor or others before doing mindful breathing or breath work? If it didn’t help, will you try again and what would you do differently? Please join the conversation.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Susan Goodman

This is a great and timely article for me. My blood pressure has been high in the evenings and I knew breathing would help but now I am focused because of your article. Thank you very much.

Joy Stephenson-Laws

So happy I could help to refocus you. Wishing you all the best in your health journey.


Important info. Thank you for this.

Joy Stephenson-Laws

You are so welcome. Happy I could be of help.

The Author

Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (, a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.

You Might Also Like