Alzheimer’s is a complex disease, often known in the later stages as being characterised by confusion, memory loss, and problems with speech or language.
However, the condition, which is most common in people over 65, can also result in poor judgement, not recognising loved ones and in late stages, incontinence and difficulties in swallowing food.
Currently, according to the NHS, 1 in 14 people over 65 and 1 in 6 people over 80 are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and 1 in 20 people with the disease are under the age of 65. However, according to new research by Professor Mara Mather at SC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, a simple breathing exercise could reduce people’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
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Breathing Technique For Alzheimer’s
Published in Nature Journal, the study asked participants to do one simple thing: inhale for a count of five, exhale for a count of five for 20 minutes, twice a day, for four weeks. Though simple, these breathing techniques had profound impacts on the participant’s breathing. Their heart rates variability increased during each exercise period and the levels of amyloid-beta peptides in their bloodstream decreased by the time the four week period was over.
These peptides are connected to Alzheimer’s and in fact, some experts believe that they are the main cause of the degenerative disease.
How Is Breathing Related To Alzheimer’s?
Our heart rate can be affected by our breathing which then impacts our nervous system and the way that our brain produces and removes proteins. While we’re awake and active, we use our sympathetic nervous system – often known as ‘fight or flight’ – to make memories and help us to focus and pay attention.
While this system is activated, there isn’t often variation between heartbeats but when the parasympathetic system is activated, heart rates increase during inhaling and decrease during exhaling.
When people are younger, it’s much easier to switch between these two systems without trouble but as we age, this switch becomes a little more difficult and unless you’re extremely fit, heart rate variation will take a sizeable dip.
In fact, a 2020 study found that heart rate drops by an average of 80% between the ages of 20 and 60 years old.
First Study Of Its Kind
The study that was conducted with 108 participants - half of them being age 18 to 30 and the other half being 55 to 80 - is the first one to find that behavioural interventions can reduce amyloid beta peptides in plasma and it shows promise for future Alzheimer’s treatment.
“At least to date, exercise interventions have not decreased Aβ [amyloid beta] levels,” said Mather. “Regularly practising slow-paced breathing via HRV biofeedback may be a low-cost and low-risk way to reduce plasma Aβ levels and to keep them low throughout adulthood.”