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The simple 5-minute breathing exercise that will keep you happy (and it’s even better than mindfulness!)

From HIIT to shaking it out in a dance class, exercise has long been known to work wonders for the mind.

But researchers have now discovered another way to boost your mood — through deep breathing exercises. 

And they might be even better than mindfulness, which is already proven to help us ‘enjoy life more’, according to the NHS


Experts based at Stanford University found people who spent 5 minutes on deep breathing exercises for a month saw their anxious feelings ease and mood improve more than those who only meditated. 

The experiment asked 108 participants to practice one of three breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation for 5 minutes per day at home, at a time that suited them best. 

The first exercise — cyclic sighing — was undertaken by 30 people. It involved them inhaling slowly, before taking another shorter breath to fully inflate their lungs and then breathing out for as long as possible. 

Some 21 participants trialed box breathing instead. This meant inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling and holding the exhaled breath again. 

The final exercise — cyclic hyperventilation — saw 33 people asked to inhale deeply and take shorter exhales 30 times before exhaling fully. 

The final 24 participants were enrolled in bog-standard mindfulness. They didn’t practice any specific breath control, but observed their breathing to help focus their awareness on the present.

After a month, participants completed two questionnaires to assess the impact of the exercises on their anxiety levels.

Results were compared against two questionnaires they all took before the 28-day trial. 

Writing in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, researchers said the effects were ‘notably higher’ in the breathwork groups.

The NHS describes mindfulness as ‘paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you’.

Deep-breathing exercises can be one type of practice adopted. 

Anxiety is intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. It often leads to a rapid heart rate, fast breathing, sweating, and feeling exhausted.

According to mental health charity Mind, six per cent of people in the UK experience generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). 

Some 6.8million adults in the US — or 3.1 per cent of the population — are also estimated to have GAD.

Simple 5-minute breathing exercise

To reap the benefits of mindfulness, the study’s participants trialed three simple breathing practices which proved to help relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. 


Cyclic Sighing Exercise:

Inhale slowly, before taking another shorter breath to fully inflate their lungs. Then breathing out for as long as possible.

Ideally, both inhale via your nose and exhale via your mouth. 

Box Breathing Exercise:

Take four breaths before another deeper breath. Once your lungs are full, exhale as slowly as possible through your nose or mouth.

Cyclic Hyperventilation:

Inhale deeply and take shorter exhales 30 times before exhaling fully. 

After 30 breaths, exhale to completely empty lungs for 15 seconds, before re-starting. 

Breathing practices that emphasize the exhale over the inhale portion of each breath are ‘more effective in reducing anxiety and improving well-being’, she added. 

Researchers also assessed whether study participants saw any changes to their sleeping patterns.

But after investigating the number of hours they all slept, their sleep efficiency and overall sleep score, the team at Stanford University saw no significant changes in any of the groups.   

Also Read: How to be happy alone?

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