Healthy weight loss isn’t about a number on a scale — it’s about how you feel inside. Crash diets, “quick fixes,” and weight loss goals that focus solely on inches and pounds can leave our bodies feeling weak and vulnerable to illness.

A better weight loss tool is the correct mindset — and there’s no better way to center your mind than to take deep breaths.

Breathing Exercises for Weight Loss: Do They Work?

You betcha! Recent studies have shown that breathing exercises can help you on your weight loss journey. Studies have shown that proper breathing can increase leptin, the hormone that regulates feelings of fullness, which helps regulate your appetite.

Proper breathing can also decrease stress levels, which otherwise may contribute to weight gain, food cravings, and emotional eating. One study even showed that 45 minutes of deep breathing 3 times a week significantly reduced body weight and body mass index (BMI), compared with a control group.

Was this helpful?

Here are some basic breathing techniques to get you feeling — and looking — your best.

It’s incredible to think that something as simple as our breath can have such a profound impact on our level of wellness, but it’s true! Recent studies have shown that proper breathing lowers the levels of stress hormones in our bodies, relaxes tenses muscles, and promotes higher rates of metabolism.

Proper breathing also helps us maintain healthy practices that relieve stress, and has been used to promote health in Eastern cultures for many years.

The key word is “proper.” Believe it or not, many of us have been breathing “wrong” for years. We could all use a refresher on what it means to breathe right; try these exercises to get started.

Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is where you take deep breaths to fill both your lungs and allow your stomach to rise. It can feel unnatural at first, as many of us (especially women) have been taught to keep a flat stomach at all times.

By not breathing into our bellies, we promote shallow breathing habits, which in turn promote tension and anxiety. Retaining tension and stress hormones in the body can make it difficult to lose weight.

In one small study, those who participated in a diaphragmatic breathing exercise also experienced a higher resting metabolic rate, which aids in digestion.

Alternate nostril breathing is a common breathing practice in yoga. It’s where you hold down one nostril, taking deep breaths in and out, then swap sides to breathe in and out on the alternate nostril.

This practice helps retrain you to breathe through your nose, rather than your mouth, which has been shown to impact the quality of your sleep and make it difficult to digest food properly, leading to weight gain. Alternate nostril breathing also increases breathing focus — honestly, it just feels really great!

Pursed lip breathing allows more control over your breath by slowing it down and making it more intentional. It improves the mechanics of your lungs and rebuilds your body’s habit to breathe deeply.

It’s highly recommended for those with COPD, asthma, or other health conditions affecting the lungs. Even better — it ups our exercise tolerance, which is certainly helpful when we’re trying to lose weight.

After a strenuous workout, you may even find yourself automatically breathing through pursed lips to quell your stress response and regain your breath.

Senobi is a Japanese form of stretch-breathing that has been found to be a “first line treatment” for obesity.

Much like the other forms of breathing, Senobi breathing has been found to reduce the level of stress hormones in the body. In fact, one study in 40 women noted that practicing Senobi increased both the excretion of hormones through the urine and sympathetic nerve activity, which is responsible for your body’s “fight or flight” response.

Proper breathing alone won’t lead to weight loss — a balanced diet, regular exercise, and self-care in times of stress are key to looking and feeling great. However, proper breathing slows the movement of your mind and helps you take time to make the healthy choices you need in order to reach your weight loss goal.

Fast facts

  • Healthy weight loss relies on how you feel, rather than number on a scale.
  • Practicing proper breathing can help you feel — and look — good.
  • Research shows that a regular practice of breathing exercises may be linked to increased weight loss and reduced body fat.
  • Breathing exercises decrease stress levels and increase metabolism, which are key to healthy weight loss.
  • Combine breathing exercises with a balanced diet, exercise, and self-care in order to reach your weight loss goal.
Was this helpful?

Whenever starting a new practice, it’s important to set reasonable goals and manage your expectations as you build a new habit. B.J. Fogg, a researcher with Stanford and author of the book Tiny Habits, emphasizes the importance of starting with tiny habits before building to the bigger ones.

Start small with a goal you know you can hit — maybe a breathing practice of 1 to 2 minutes when you wake up and again right before bed. Once you’ve built that habit, you can work your way up to 3 to 4 times daily for 5 minutes each — upon waking, at lunch, at the end of the workday, and again before bed.

Try to focus your practice around events that occur every day (waking, sleeping, eating) rather than at certain times on the clock as most days may be unpredictable — especially in times of stress when you need your breathwork the most!

Tara Parker-Pope, founding editor of Well, recommends tying your new habit to an existing one to help you cement the habit faster into each day.

So let’s try it! Find a comfortable and quiet spot, set a timer, close your eyes and get to work on your breath.

When you’re ready to level up, add some yoga poses, mantras, and meditations to enhance your practice. But these aren’t necessary for the work of deep breathing. All it takes is focus on your slow, smooth breaths.

Proper breathing has been shown to promote weight loss by decreasing your levels of stress hormones and increasing your rate of metabolism. When combined with balanced diets, exercise, and self-care, breathing can help you reach your weight loss goals and maintain them.