Inhalation/Exhalation Ratio Modulates the Effect of Slow Breathing on Heart Rate Variability and Relaxation

Abstract

Slow breathing is widely applied to improve symptoms of hyperarousal, but it is unknown whether its beneficial effects relate to the reduction in respiration rate per se, or, to a lower inhalation/exhalation (i/e) ratio. The present study examined the effects of four ventilatory patterns on heart rate variability and self-reported dimensions of relaxation. Thirty participants were instructed to breathe at 6 or 12 breaths/min, and with an i/e ratio of 0.42 or 2.33. Participants reported increased relaxation, stress reduction, mindfulness and positive energy when breathing with the low compared to the high i/e ratio. A lower compared to a higher respiration rate was associated only with an increased score on positive energy. A low i/e ratio was also associated with more power in the high frequency component of heart rate variability, but only for the slow breathing pattern. Our results show that i/e ratio is an important modulator for the autonomic and subjective effects of instructed ventilatory patterns.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by research grants of FWO Flanders to I. Van Diest, and by IWT PhD grant to D. Widjaja.

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Correspondence to Ilse Van Diest.

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Van Diest, I., Verstappen, K., Aubert, A.E. et al. Inhalation/Exhalation Ratio Modulates the Effect of Slow Breathing on Heart Rate Variability and Relaxation. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 39, 171–180 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-014-9253-x

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Keywords

  • Relaxation
  • Breathing
  • Respiration
  • Heart rate variability
  • RSA