How Does Deep Breathing Improve Your Digestion?

breathing exercise

Alexey Yaremenko / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Deep breathing before a meal can help the body digest food.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing is a good way to manage stress, which improves gut health.
  • Getting quality sleep, limiting caffeine, and practicing yoga can also help with digestion.

The holiday season means you'll be enjoying lots of food. Between parties, family dinners, and all of the traditional baked goods, you may need a bit extra help with your digestion.

There's a slew of remedies, but one natural solution may help ease discomfort in your gut: diaphragmatic breathing. It's a breathing exercise where you inhale deeply and slowly through your nose, expanding your stomach, and then gently breathe out.

TikToker @reclaimingmelissa said deep breathing can "dramatically improve" irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and heartburn. Is it true?

Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, requires a little more effort than standard breathing. While inhaling through your nose, you should keep your chest as still as possible while allowing your stomach to expand. Each inhale and exhale should take around six seconds, respectively.

Studies show that deep breathing can manage stress and potentially treat chronic respiratory disease. Stress can slow down digestion or magnify any discomfort in the bowels, according to the American Psychological Association. Reducing overall stress through deep breathing may help ease pressure from the gut as well.

“Deep breathing before a meal is one of the best things you can do to help with digestion," said Beth Chiodo, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutritional Living, told Verywell.

She said this breathing exercise can help stimulate the vagus nerve, the line of communication between the gut and the brain that helps “regulate muscle contraction and secretion of gastric acid and digestive enzymes."

Mandy Enright, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian, told Verywell that slow and deep breathing can relax muscles in the intestinal tract to promote absorption and digestion. It can also increase oxygen intake and stimulate blood flow.

The Link Between Stress, Gut Function, and Deep Breathing

One effect of stress that people can experience is negative gastrointestinal symptoms, like indigestion. And studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing may trigger body relaxation responses and benefit both physical and mental health. 

According to the University of Michigan Health, activating the diaphragm can simultanesouly activate the parasympathetic system, which is associated with associated with both relaxation and digestion. Essentially, diaphragmatic breathing helps you "rest and digest." It creates a gentle massage for internal organs, alleviating issues like  abdominal pain, constipation, and bloating.

Deep breathing can help support digestion simply by helping the body relax.

Other Ways To Support Digestion

Deep breathing is not the only way to help your body break down your food. Enright shared additional tips that can be done with minimal effort:

  • Stay hydrated. Hydration plays a big role in digestive health, so make sure to drink plenty of water. 
  • Limit high caffeine or sugary beverages which can lead to digestive discomfort.
  • Include movement in your day-to-day activities. In addition to cardiovascular and strength training exercises, explore moving meditations such as tai-chi. Tai-chi involves continuous slow-flowing movement connected to the breath that is very calming for the mind and body. 
  • Try practicing yoga. There are many different types of yoga poses that can help manually promote and stimulate digestion. In addition to vinyasa yoga, which has more continuous movement, restorative yoga is slower, more relaxing, and helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Get quality sleep each night by allowing yourself to unwind and relax at the end of the day and turning off electronic devices at least one hour before bed. 

What This Means For You

Before you eat a big meal, taking deep breaths while allowing your abdomen to expand may be helpful. Inhale through your nose for six seconds and then exhale gently for six seconds. Researchers say this breathing exercise can help reduce stress in your gut and improve digestion.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hamasaki H. Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Health: A Narrative Review. Medicines (Basel). 2020 Oct 15;7(10):65. doi:10.3390/medicines7100065

  2. Hopper SI, Murray SL, Ferrara LR, Singleton JK. Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing for reducing physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep. 2019 Sep;17(9):1855-1876. doi:10.11124/JBISRIR-2017-003848

  3. American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body

  4. Cherpak CE. Mindful eating: a review of how the stress-digestion-mindfulness triad may modulate and improve gastrointestinal and gigestive function. Integr Med (Encinitas). 18(4):48-53.

  5. Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, Zhang H, Duan NY, Shi YT, Wei GX, Li YF. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Front Psychol. 2017 Jun 6;8:874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

  6. University of Michigan Health. Diaphragmatic breathing for GI patients.