Slow, deep breathing is being used as a self-management intervention for various health conditions including pain and hypertension. Stimulation of the arterial baroreceptors and increased vagal modulation are among the proposed mechanisms for the therapeutic effects of slow, deep breathing. We investigated whether adding inspiratory threshold load can enhance the cardiovascular responses to controlled breathing at the frequency of 0.1 Hz, a common form of slow, deep breathing. Healthy volunteers (N = 29) performed controlled breathing at 0.1 Hz (6 breaths/minute) without load and with inspiratory threshold loads of 5 cmH2 O and 10 cmH2 O. Respiratory airflow, heart rate, and blood pressure were continuously recorded. The amplitude of the systolic blood pressure variation during respiratory cycles increased with increasing loads. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia was higher during controlled breathing at 0.1 Hz with the load of 10 cmH2 O compared to without load. Baroreflex sensitivity was not affected by loads. The effect of loads on respiratory sinus arrhythmia was mediated by increasing the amplitude of systolic blood pressure variation during respiratory cycles. These results suggest that applying small inspiratory threshold loads during controlled breathing at 0.1 Hz increases cardiac vagal modulation by this breathing exercise. This effect seems to be mediated by stronger stimulation of the arterial baroreceptors because of larger systolic blood pressure swings along the respiratory cycle. The potential benefit of long-term practice of controlled breathing at 0.1 Hz with inspiratory threshold loads on baroreflex function and cardiac vagal control needs to be investigated, particularly in pain and hypertension patients.
Keywords: autonomic; baroreflex; breathing exercises; heart rate variability; respiratory sinus arrhythmia; vagal.
© 2019 Society for Psychophysiological Research.