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Deep breathing exercises may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows. People who practiced deep breathing exercises had blood lower levels of amyloid-beta protein – a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study involved 108 healthy adults. Half of the participants practiced slow-breathing techniques in a 10-second rhythm (five seconds in, five seconds out) to maximize their heart rate variability. The other half tried to keep their heart rate steady by practicing relaxation techniques, such as picturing calm settings or listening to calming music. Each group practiced their respective techniques for about 20 minutes, twice daily for four weeks.

They found that participants who practiced the slow-breathing techniques (inducing greater heart rate variability) had lower blood levels of amyloid-beta 40 and 42 – two toxic proteins that are typically increased in people with Alzheimer’s disease – than those who kept their heart rates steady. The reductions in the two amyloid-beta proteins corresponded to decreased production of proteins involved in noradrenergic signaling, part of the body’s “fight-or-flight” response.

Heart rate variability refers to the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats, measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval. Decreased parasympathetic nervous system activity or increased sympathetic activity will lead to lower heart rate variability, a robust predictor of poor health outcomes, including a greater risk of death after a heart attack.

These findings suggest that breathing techniques that moderate heart rate variability reduce amyloid-beta burden in healthy people, potentially reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Learn about other strategies to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in this episode featuring Dr. Dale Bredesen.

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