Simple breathing exercises may one day be a promising preventative measure against hypertension, or abnormally high blood pressure, according to a new study. The key may lie in starting those exercises early, instead of waiting until problems arise.

Using an animal model, researchers at Australia’s University of Melbourne and Macquarie University identified activity between neurons controlling breathing and blood pressure during the early stages of essential hypertension.

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“By interrupting the activity between these two groups of neurons during adolescence, we were able to dramatically reduce development of high blood pressure in adulthood,” said lead researcher Andrew Allen, in a news release.

Essential hypertension, unlike secondary hypertension, typically has no identifiable cause, and develops slowly over the course of many years, according to Mayo Clinic.

Allen believes starting breathing exercises or other potential therapies to prevent hypertension are most effective when performed at a young age. During adolescence, the nervous system is still able to be modified, but during adulthood the researchers observed that the interactions between the two circuits were fixed. Therefore, blood pressure was able to be lowered, but it was only a temporary solution.

When the researchers adjusted the neural activity, they noticed changes in blood pressure with every breath taken.

Allen notes his team’s study, published in Cell Metabolism, parallels what athletes and Eastern philosophies have long known about breathing and heart rate.

“Biathletes have to regulate their breathing to slow down their heart rate before rifle shooting, and eastern meditative practices such as yoga and pranayama have always emphasised the interaction between the two,” said Allen.

Mayo Clinic cites relaxation and deep breathing as a home remedy to control high blood pressure. Their site notes that certain devices, including many apps, promote deep breathing, but “it’s questionable whether these devices have a significant effect on lowering your blood pressure.” Other lifestyle and home remedies to help control and prevent hypertension include managing stress, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling blood pressure during pregnancy.

Furthermore, Allen emphasizes the importance of better understanding predictors of hypertension to help assist people with prehypertension.

In the United States, about 1 in 3 American adults has prehypertension, which means their blood pressure is above average, but their numbers don’t fall into the high blood pressure category. High blood pressure usually shows no symptoms, so most people aren’t aware they have it. But, the only way to be sure is to have it measured. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some behaviors that can increase your risk for high blood pressure include smoking tobacco, too much salt in your diet, not getting enough physical activity, and drinking too much alcohol.

If high blood pressure is left uncontrolled it can lead to life-threatening conditions such as a heart attack or stroke, heart failure, kidney failure, aneurysm, and metabolic syndrome.

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