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Researchers say daily breathing exercises may help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. SeventyFour/Getty Images
  • Researchers say daily breathing exercises may help peptides in the bloodstream.
  • They say this action could help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Experts say biofeedback exercises such as daily breathing has a number of health benefits.

Breathing exercises done for 20 minutes two times a day helped decrease peptides associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the blood, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers say the findings indicate that these daily exercises could potentially reduce the risk of developing this form of dementia.

In he study, participants used a biofeedback unit while completing breathing exercises for four weeks. Researchers clipped a heart monitor onto the ear and connected it to a laptop in front of the participant.

There were 108 participants, with half aged 18 to 30 and half aged 55 to 80.

Half the participants listened to calming music or thought of calming images, such as a beach scene or a walk in the park. They also viewed a heart rate monitor on the laptop screen to ensure their heart rate remained steady.

The second group of participants paced their breathing to match the pacer on the laptop. When a square rose, they inhaled. When it dropped, they exhaled. This exercise was designed to increase breathing-induced oscillations in their heart rate. Their heart rates rose during inhale and dipped during the exhale.

The researchers completed blood tests before the start of the breathing exercises and again after four weeks.

They looked at two peptides – amyloid 40 and 42. Scientists say that they believe an accumulation of these peptides triggers the Alzheimer’s disease process. A higher level of the peptides in the blood could indicate a greater risk of developing the disease.

Amyloid beta peptides are the suspected “bad guy” in Alzheimer’s disease, according to Dr. David Merrill, an adult and geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

They may be produced in the body due to stress. If so, it would make sense that relaxation breathing would lower the levels.

“Even better would be mitigating the stressors in the first place. Healthy body, healthy mind,” Merrill told Medical News Today.

“The accumulation of amyloid-beta peptides in the brain is the first step in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis,” said Dr. Martin J. Sadowski, a professor of neurology, psychiatry, biochemistry, and molecular pharmacology at NYU Langone Health in New York.

“This process takes a number of years, and it is believed to be modulated by several factors, which remain unidentified,” he told Medical News Today.

Plasma levels of both peptides decreased in the second group during the study who breathed slowly and tried to increase their heart rate variability. The results were similar in both the younger and older participating.

The scientists noted that this could be the first study to show that behavior can reduce amyloid beta peptides in blood plasma.

Previous research showed that sleep deprivation and stress can increase levels. Exercise interventions did not decrease levels.

“A critical role of amyloid beta peptides in causing Alzheimer’s disease is clear from the fact that any gene mutation that increases the level of amyloid beta peptides in the brain increases the risk for Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “However, abnormal tau, another brain protein, is needed for developing Alzheimer’s.”

According to Harvard Health, biofeedback attempts to teach a person using it to control automatic body functions.

It can help people control heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, which can help ease certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure.

The researchers noted that biofeedback could be a low-cost, low-risk way to reduce the peptides in plasma.

“Any breathing exercise that helps calm us down and reduces stress, as well as allows us to sleep, helps prevent Alzheimer’s,” Devi said.

During a biofeedback session, the therapist connects you with sensors that are attached to a computer, according to Harvard Health. The sensors detect the body’s responses, which the computer records.

As you learn to control your body’s functions, such as breathing, the biofeedback machine signals your progress. The therapist determines how many sessions are needed and, in the end, might provide exercises to continue at home.

“In the study, a computer-based device was used to guide the participants through the biofeedback sessions,” Sadowski said. “However, it is possible to train individuals to perform the biofeedback without guidance. An accumulation of amyloid beta peptides in the brain is an incredibly protracted process. It remains to be determined how long to continue the biofeedback intervention to achieve a clinically meaningful effect on reducing disease risk.”