Dr Michael Mosley says four weeks of simple breathing trick can cut risk of Alzheimer's disease

Dr Michael Mosley
Dr Michael Mosley said the technique had been around for centuries, but the science of it was only now being understood by researchers -Credit:PR Handout

A simple breathing technique which has been around for thousands of years could reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, according to Dr Michael Mosley. Speaking on his Just One Thing podcast on BBC, the TV and lifestyle doctor said it could also reduce pain and inflammation and improve our bodies' immune function.

It involves slowing your breathing down - something which then becomes synchronised with 'other rhythms' in the human body. By going down to somewhere between three and seven breaths per minute, it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as your relaxation response.

The parasympathetic nervous system is an intricate network of nerve fibres that connects and regulates organs throughout your body which, according to Dr Mosley, helps us to 'rest and digest, repair and restore, reduce pain and inflammation, refresh your mind and improves immune function, regulating our body, brain and energy levels'.

Breathing out stimulates a nerve called the vagus nerve, the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system. It is a highway for the parasympathetic system and connects the brain to our internal organs.

By slowing your breathing down and taking more air in, stretch receptors in our lungs communicate to the vagus nerve. Roughly six breaths a minute sees signals from the heart, lungs and blood vessels converge, boosting stimulation of the vagus nerve.

"You can use your breath to engage your relaxation response, which has the power to charge, renew and reset your entire body," Dr Mosley said. "One of the best ways to maximise this parasympathetic activity – your relaxation response – is to slow your breath right down to a sweet spot, where your breathing rate aligns, synchronises, with other rhythms in the body."

"The idea is to slow your breathing to around six breathes a minute, to reach what is called a resonance frequency, where your breathing rate resonates with your other internal rhythms and your vagus nerve is activated most strongly," Dr Mosley continued. "The exact rate varies from person to person but it is usually between four and seven breaths a minute."

It works by taking slow, deep breaths in and out - ideally through the nose. Let whatever is in your mind fall away and gradually lengthen your breaths. This should activate your relaxation response. The practice has been well-known for thousands of years in meditation and yoga - but the science behind it has only been broken down in the last few years.

It may sound strange, but studies really do back it up. One recent study found five minutes a day can improve your mood and reduce anxiety. Even more impressively, a 2023 study found four weeks of it led to significantly lower levels of amyloid beta - a protein linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease.