How I learned to slow my heart rate

UPDATE: This post is by far the most popular one on this site, and it has helped a lot of people. So, I have written an extended PDF version of this that you can download and save to your computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can also share it with others. It’s free.

Here it is: How I slow down my heart rate (click here to download)

Someone mentioned recently how their heart just races at times — “off the charts” is how they put it.

Many, many years ago, I actually learned how to slow my heart rate from pounding a mile a minute to a regular pace.

Back in high school, when I was working out for track, after a particularly hard workout, my heart would feel like it was beating out of my chest. It was pretty disconcerting. I actually felt ill when it was happening. So I had to do something. Here’s what I did:

First, I tried slowing down my breathing, but my heart would still race, and my body would feel like it was starving for air. So, I’d have to start breathing heavier again, and my heart rate would stay fast.

Then I tried taking in a deep breath and holding it… but for some reason, that just made it beat even harder. Yikes! I think that is because inhalation is linked with the sympathetic nervous system, which is all about adrenalin and fight-flight-freeze responses. Taking a deep breath seemed to activate the very thing I was trying to calm down.

Then I tried exhaling completely, and holding my breath for a count of 3-5, or as long as I could hold it…. then slowly inhaling, and then exhaling and holding it for as long as I could count. Somehow the exhalation is what worked for me. It may be because exhaling is linked with the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate.

I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say exactly for sure why this works, but I’ve come across other people talking about it — like the folks at Coherence and the new science of breath (the pic below is theirs, and if you’re into the science, I recommend you check ‘em out).

But all the mysterious science aside, based on my experience, focusing on exhalation is what helps me slow down my heart rate. I actually have a little bit of a heart murmur (no big deal, according to my doctor), so that makes managing my heart rate even more important to me.

To recap, here’s what I do:

Exhale… hold the breath and count to 3 or 5 or as long as I can go… then slowly inhale and then exhale again, and repeat the count. If I keep doing that, I can slow my heart rate from pounding a mile a minute, to a regular thump-thump-thump. Sometimes I’ve done it in the space of a few minutes. It’s pretty cool when that happens! It feels a little strange and unexpected, but it’s also very reassuring.

I can’t guarantee it will work for everyone, and please don’t take chances with your health and safety if you have cardiac/respiratory issues, but I did want to share that. It just might help.

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40 thoughts on “How I learned to slow my heart rate

  1. I needed this the other day. I just tried it using a blood pressure machine and in the span of 10 minutes I lowered it from 110 to 98 while keeping good blood pressure at the same time…

  2. That’s great! Glad to hear it worked for you — I used it myself, this morning, when I woke up. My heart was racing, and I needed to slow it down… so I did, using this technique. Best of luck with your blood pressure and heart rate.

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  4. Thanks man, exhaling technique really helps because we actually breathe too much and have way too much oxygen and less co2.Your technique is very similar to dr.Buteyko breathing pattern.

  5. Sure – it’s funny, I’ve heard about Buteyko, but that was after I actually figured this out. If it works, it works, I guess, whoever figures it out.

  6. I tried this technique and it does help. I believe with regular practice it will benefit as an addition to using herbs, such as gotu cola, and vitamin D3. Thankyou.

  7. What the heck??? I search for heart rate stuff and I get a blog with this title??? I nearly have tears in my eyes… Having suffered an ‘acquired brain injury’ that resulted in a cognitive disorder I’ve gone through many doctors and have found 2 that I can work with and one of them recommended a Neuropsychologist who ran me through a battery of tests. Her conclusion was that I have a brilliant mind, but just can’t process like I used to….

    So, when I happened upon this blog I was struck with a sense of belonging…. Now, it may be that when I look over the rest of the site I find that the issues you deal with are not at all the same as the ones I’m confronted with and if that’s the case, I thank you for the title.

  8. Hey, glad you found your way here. It is pretty amazing how “hit and miss” it can be, finding info like this. Everybody is different, so some things may sound familiar… others not. The important thing is to know that you’re not alone, and that there often is a way to work around/through these things to get… somewhere. Maybe not exactly where we want, or planned, or wish, but it’s somewhere.

  9. As someone who enjoys freediving I might be able to shed some light on this matter. Basically the urge to breath is driven from build up on CO2, which your body wants to eliminate. The reason why holding your breath can lower your heartrate is because its a defense mechanism to prevent hypoxia (critically low blood oxygen). As your blood oxygen level is lowered, your heart rate will slow in order to conserve what little oxygen you have left. You can see it clearly in this breath hold graph

    The subject has held his breath for 5m30s, and you can see the heart rate decline, until he starts breathing again, then it shoots up – in order to delivery the oxygen which is now available again.

    My recommendation would be to:
    1) Reduce Workout Intensity. You may be over-training considering your current cardio-vascular condition, so it might be best to reduce the intensity of your workout then gradually increase it. The kind of discomfort you describe could be taken as a yellow flag that you are pushing yourself too hard.

    2) Practice Recovery Breathing. There are many different techniques suggested by different people, so Google around and find one that works for you. Generally accepted principles are: don’t breath too fast (hyperventilation) as this prevents efficient gas exchange. Instead inhale, hold it for just one second, then exhale, and repeat. The pause at the top helps with gas exchange. Do this for several cycles then start to slow your exhale a bit. For example if it takes 2 seconds to inhale, exhale for 4 seconds. If it takes 4 seconds to inhale, exhale for 8 seconds. This is called “triangular” or asymmetrical breathing, and it helps to saturate your blood with oxygen and also slow your heart down.

  10. Thanks for this…I lowered my heart rate from over 100 down to 78 in just a few minutes doing this!!! Thanks, you may have saved my life till I can afford to see a doctor!!!

  11. I have been having tachycardia for 2 weeks now on waking and just had it as i was about to sleep. got the ipad to find a way to slow my heart down and found your info. after just 3 minutes i can feel a difference already. many thanks for sharing.
    Sue, spain.

  12. Pingback: Help for a racing heart rate | Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind

  13. OMG thank u so much I got only 6 hours of sleep last night and I’m only 13 so I woke up with my heart racing…this worked so well

  14. Came across this while searching because my heart was pounding hard. Only at 97 bpm but pounding hard… Felt like it was gunna hop out of my chest. Did this exercise and poof, down to 88 in a few min.

    Thanks a lot.

    Before anyone says anything, I’ve already seem my dr and have been told I am perfectly healthy with the exception of needing to loose a little weight.

  15. Awesome – glad it worked for you! I’ve been doing it a lot at night, lately, because with job changes comes stress and massive adrenaline rushes that don’t seem to understand when it’s time to go to sleep. It still amazes me, what a difference it makes for me. Just the other night — from wildly racing to a steady thump-thump-thump in just a few minutes…

  16. It doesn’t work.
    I don’t fell any hill effect, and I fell actually relaxed, yet my HB is still 100

  17. what app and heart monitor do you use to get the graph you displayed and get it in real time?

  18. I’m not sure about the app that’s shown. I would imagine there are some apps out there, but you’d probably have to have a biometric band or something like that collecting the info. There must be something out there, but I’m not sure what that would be.

  19. tried this it helped for a minute or so then back to 140 bpm :( I can see it working normally with my fast heart rate but the last 2 days been particularly bad!!! getting a heart monitor fitted today so will try the technique and get back to you on results as only 27 so should have no issues like this :(

  20. Natasha, check out your diet. There could be something that is stressing your system or “whacking you out”. And if you’re under stress, one thing you might try is thinking about how you will feel about your current situation in 20 years, when you are 47. I do that a lot, and it puts things perspective and calms me down. Just some ideas. Good luck.

  21. Thanks! My heart beats very hard as compared to just fast, but I had a positive result after doing what you suggested. I experience the same result with the breathing techniques you mentioned at first. It always made my situation worse….

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