Health Tips > Fitness Files > Reduce Inflammation with Breathing Techniques

Reduce Inflammation with Breathing Techniques

View All Section Pages

Man practicing breathing techniques

Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system—the body’s built-in fighting mechanism designed to protect us. This is often an automatic reaction due to injury, disease or irritation of the tissue. But when acute inflammation turns chronic, it can cause disease and other health issues. Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Debi Wilkins, MS, shares the positive role breathing techniques play in reducing inflammation and promoting relaxation.

Acute vs. chronic inflammation
Acute inflammation is a response to a sudden change, such as a paper cut. Your body activates your immune system and sends out an inflammatory response via cells and cytokines—small cells that aid in signaling. Some symptoms of acute inflammation include: 

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Feeling heat in the area of injury

Most individuals experience acute inflammation in everyday life. “Imagine stubbing your toe,” says Wilkins. “It would likely swell and you might feel some pain but in a few days it should be healed. We know this is acute inflammation because there are no lasting effects.” 

Acute inflammation turns chronic when your body continues to send inflammatory cells even when the injury has healed. Chronic inflammation symptoms are harder to identify and are sometimes silent, meaning symptoms are not always present. Chronic inflammation symptoms can include: 

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Chest pain 
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Joint pain 
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin rash

Chronic inflammation takes a giant toll on the body and has been linked to serious health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, arthritis, asthma and more. It can also make weight loss more difficult. “Constant inflammation causes your body to go into a fight-or-flight mode,” says Wilkins. “Blood cells could end up attacking healthy organs and systems in the body, causing disease.” Chronic inflammation can also attack our joints and gut as well as affect mental health. Inflammation is a key contributor to depression and anxiety. 

Benefits of breathing techniques for inflammation 
Breathing techniques are one way to help reduce inflammation by promoting relaxation and healing on a cellular level. The vagus nerve is the main nerve of your nervous system running from your brain to your large intestine. It is responsible for controlling functions such as digestion, heart rate and your immune system. When you practice deep breathing, your vagus nerve is stimulated and creates a sense of inner-calm, suppressing inflammation.

By slowing down and focusing on your breathing, stress, anxiety and heart rate drop. Blood pressure balances out, quality sleep increases, your immune and respiratory function become stronger and digestion improves. Breathing techniques also help produce happy hormones—serotonin and dopamine.

Three breathing techniques
Visualization and relaxation techniques, which require breath holding and breathing techniques, calm the body and reduce stress—a key stimulus for inflammation. Wilkins says, “Breathing techniques should be practiced daily to get the most out of it! Spending even 2 to 5 minutes per day on these techniques can drastically improve inflammatory responses and your overall health.”

Try the following three breathing patterns.

1. 4, 7, 8 Breathing

  • Breathe in through your nose for four counts
  • Hold your breath for seven counts 
  • Breathe out for eight counts 
  • Repeat for three additional repetitions  

2. Box Breathing 
    Sitting in an upright position, relax your shoulders.

  • Breathe in through your nose for four counts 
  • Hold your breath for four counts
  • Breathe out for four counts 
  • Hold your breath for four counts
  • Repeat for three additional repetitions 

3. Diaphragmatic Breathing 
    Lying on your back, place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Focus on breathing  with your diaphragm instead of your chest.

  • Breathe in through your nose for four counts 
  • Breathe out for four counts 
  • Repeat for three additional repetitions 

For a demonstration of breathing techniques, watch the Exercise Move

Start with an easier breathing pattern like the ones above and then work your way up to harder ones. Free apps—such as Breathwrk and Othership—are also available to guide you through a breathing session.

Remember what is good for the heart is also good for the brain and healthy habits such as regular exercise can help reduce inflammation. A professional fitness trainer can design a workout plan right for you and provide pointers for implementing breathwork in your daily life.

For more information on personal training or to schedule a session with a professional fitness trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.