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. (See the comments below to read what they’ve said.) So, I created a whole new site, called How I Slow My Heart Rate where I give more details on the technique and also provide access to a variety of heart monitors and blood pressure cuffs they can use to manage their heart health. Visit the site today to see what’s cookin’!

I have also written an extended PDF version of this that you can download and save to your computer, tablet, or smartphone. I am currently revising it, to add more information and useful resources. You can learn more about it at How I Slow My Heart Rate

Here is the first version: 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.

About brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who had falls and car accidents and sports-related injuries in 1972, 1973, 1982-83, 1995, and most lately 2004. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications for 35 of my 43 years. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained that injury at age 8… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.
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65 Responses to How I learned to slow my heart rate

  1. Henry says:

    This actually works quite well. Thanks. =)

  2. Glad it works for you :)


  3. N says:

    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…

  4. 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.

  5. Pingback: Searchers Top 27 for August 24, 2012 | Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind

  6. Anonymous says:

    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.

  7. 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.

  8. JM says:

    Thank you. It helped. My heart had been racing for over 30minutes, I was getting very worried.

  9. That’s great – glad it worked – it can be very worrying when that happens.

  10. Anonymous says:

    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.

  11. Glad it worked for you! Everyone has something that works well for them, so good luck finding your “magic combination”

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Thanks – great info and good tips about the asymmetrical breathing and the gas exchange.

  16. Loretta says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s really helped me :)

  17. You’re very welcome. Glad it helped.

  18. Anonymous says:

    thank you for this information, it helped me a lot.

  19. You’re welcome. Glad to hear it helped!

  20. Anonymous says:

    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!!!

  21. That’s great! Glad it worked for you!

  22. Anonymous says:

    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.

  23. Wow, that’s great it helped you! I’m glad you found something that works for you.

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

  25. Anonymous says:

    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

  26. Glad to hear it! Be well.

  27. ravi says:

    I’m 22 years old …my heart rate is 120+ per min

  28. ravi, do what you can to lower your heart rate. you’re much too young to put that much strain on your system. be well

  29. Allan says:

    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.

  30. 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…

  31. Nordlys says:

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

  32. Sorry to hear it’s not working for you. I’m glad you felt relaxed. Maybe try a little longer?

  33. Brian says:

    I love you! You made my heart rate go from 103 down to 91!

  34. Dude, that is awesome! So glad it worked for you!

  35. David Young says:

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

  36. 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.

  37. natasha says:

    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 :(

  38. 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.

  39. Anonymous says:

    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….

  40. Glad to hear it helped!

  41. Gabby says:

    This works amazing! I needed to get my heart rate down under 100 and it was 105, used this technique and lowered it down to 90!

  42. That’s great! Glad to hear it worked for you!

  43. Anonymous says:

    this is called hyperventilation , lowering the CO2 levels , which cause slower rate

  44. Esai says:

    I have been able to control my heart beat, before bed , i would do some stretches before i enter my bed, lay on my back and do a process similar to the one explained, but once i am relaxed i the hold my breath for a few minutes, now im not holding in my breath completely , i am adjusting the pressure in my lungs and chest to suit the flow of blood, once i get to my level i then begin to work the muscles around my heart and the heart itself and start pumping it. I dont know the technical terms, but it sure feels good to feel your body.

  45. That’s very interesting. Stretching helps me, as well. I have been experimenting with a more gradual process like you described — though I haven’t thought about adjusting my breathing to suit the flow of blood. I can’t always detect that. Good ideas.

  46. esai says:

    Just imagine if our blood was circulating at an even/constant pace through our body,
    if your diet was correct and you had the ideal amount of vitamins and minerals your body would the do wonders, repairing damaged tissue, cancers, disease and even more important your BRAIN!. Im no scientist or a religious freak, there are no sinistral motives behind me saying this, i am confident in what i am saying because i know its true. any thing is possible when you put your mind to it.
    if anyone should attempt any of what this forum suggests, do it for the right reasons, not just to slow your heart beat, do it to be free and do it to live! We live in a world where we are being controlled, Fun isnt it? They are continually controlling what we think and say, Why do we give them our freedom so easily?
    we can control our own body! We control our thoughts! its so simple! Choose life not death, good not evil, positive and not negative.
    i my self started controlling what i would think, i was then telling my body to heal itself, ya it didnt happen overnight but its happening, i would go into detail but too much to put in text, we all are the same inside and we all have the same freedom of life, take controll of it before its too late.

  47. SecretLover says:

    You’re right buddy. I’m a tracker too! I first found out I can control my heart rate when my friends decided to play with some checking heart rate phone app. Of course I try it out without second thought and my rate was somewhat similar to everyone. Then I decided to say something funny out of pure joke intention which is I can slow my heart rate. Surprisingly, I took a few deep breathe and focused myself and tried it out and I actually managed to control it :D

  48. Ha – that’s awesome

  49. Anonymous says:

    WOW…tried it and it work immediately

  50. Great! Glad to hear it!

  51. car says:

    having some problems at home and went to the doc because my heart felt like it was gona explode, doc said I was fine I just had severe anxiety. for the past 16 days ive been in hell. I cant catch a breath I kept breathing in deep breathes and using cold water to slow my hb and nothing worked the doc gave me meds for the anxiety and that makes me feel better but I don’t want to have to rely on it forever. This technic seems to help a lot. Thank you so much for being smart.

  52. Glad to hear it works for you! It has really helped me a lot, too.

  53. This is really cool. Will have to try it. Thanks for following!

  54. Good luck – let us know how it goes

  55. Erhire Helen says:

    Tried it and it worked! From 99 to 76 thanks alot

  56. Glad to hear it worked for you!

  57. insomniac says:

    There are many nights when I just cant fall asleep and the longer I stay awake the more I begin to panic leads to faster heart rate and more panic and then even faster heart rate. Amazingly exhaling to a count of 10 just simply works – adopt a meditative crosslegged indian style posture, close my eyes and focus on my breathing. I do this for 10mins. Then try to sleep. Has worked 100% of the times.

  58. Awesome tip – thanks

  59. I’m going to try this tip now. Good morning.

  60. Anonymous says:

    I Almost Always Have A Fast Heart Rate And Im 14, At A Restiong Stage it’s Around 130 Bmp And This Helps, Thanks:)

  61. Glad to hear it. 130 bpm is pretty fast for resting. I’m glad this is helping you slow things down.

  62. Anonymous says:

    I have recently stopped my blood pressure medication Metoprolol Tartrat 100 mg. I have had very little energy and my resting heart rate was between 40 & 50 bpm for the past 2 years. I was experiencing numbness and tingling along with anxiety and depression.I have been off this med 5 days now and my blood pressure has remained 110 over 69 same as when I was on this medication. What changed was my heart rate has increased to a resting HR of between 80 & 90. That was a big jump. After 2 years it feels very weird to have a rapid heart rate. I tried your method of breathing to slow down my heart and it worked. Dropped from 85 down to 68. I am starting to feel more energy since stopping medication so something like a simple blood pressure medication can be bad for your health. Thanks again for your help! Don’t want to go back on medication again so I will practice your method.

  63. You’re very welcome. I am glad to hear it worked for you and I hope it continues to do so.

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  65. Rose says:

    I to was in track…my coach said that when I get like that to hold my arms above my head…then take deep breathes in & out…worked pretty well

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