I did a one-minute deep breathing exercise every day for a month, and I didn’t think it’d be this effective

This short session calmed my mind and helped me breathe better during exercise

James Frew doing a breathing exercise in a park
(Image credit: James Frew)

It’s been a busy year. I’ve tried to stay on top of everything, but some days I feel overwhelmed by an ever-expanding to-do list. 

I already meditate every day and that usually helps with those feelings of overwhelm. But meditation is only one way to practice mindfulness. 

I use Headspace for guided meditations and recently noticed they've added a short, one-minute breathing exercise to the app. I was curious about this—outside of my meditation practice, I rarely focus on my breath.

I decided to give the 60-second breathwork session a go for a month. Sometimes I did it while on a walk, while queuing for a coffee, or when I sat down at my desk to work. I didn’t expect it to make much difference, but I was happily proved wrong.

How to practice deep breathing

Headspace recommends a four-second pattern for its deep breathing exercise. You'll inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold for four, exhale through your mouth for four seconds, and hold again for four seconds. 

Repeat the cycle five times to take the session to just over a minute. You can do it with your eyes open or closed and you don't need to be sitting or laying down to start (although you can, if that's comfortable). 

Here's what I noticed, after doing it for a month.

1. I felt calmer

During a meditation session, you pay attention to your breath but you don't alter it. This short exercise was different, as you intentionally change the way you breathe, inhaling and exhaling for longer periods. This helps slow your heart rate down, which makes you feel calmer.

Although I never felt too stressed when I sat down at my work desk, I did sometimes feel a little tense. But after taking a few deep breaths, I felt more at ease with my to-do list and able to focus.

The practice only took a minute, so I could easily fit it in without it affecting my workload. And as it was such a short exercise, I found it easier to stick with. 

2. It boosted my workout performance

I’ve known for years that I could improve the way I breathe during exercise, particularly while lifting weights. I tend to hold a single breath when I’m finding something hard, but all that does is deprive my muscles of the oxygen they need to perform properly.

I'd never previously taken the time to practice deep, rhythmical breathing. After just a few days, I noticed that I was better able to control my breathing while taking on a high-intensity resistance training (HIRT) session.

There are few opportunities during a HIRT class to get your breath back to normal, so taking deep breaths is vital to performing your best, and during the last few sets (which are always the toughest), I found it easier to keep going without losing form.

3. It made me more mindful

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present moment without getting lost in your thoughts. I’ve used meditation to practice mindfulness, but that doesn’t mean that I’m always mindful, especially when I’m busy.

However, doing this short breathing exercise each morning reminded me that I can practice mindfulness even when I’m not meditating. Taking a moment to focus on my breath made it easier to do it throughout the day too.

I noticed my breath more while I was doing other things, like cooking or while out walking. It helped bring me back to how my body felt in that moment and refocused my mind.

I'll definitely continue to use this breathwork routine throughout my day, to help me refocus my mind. Like a bite-sized five-minute workout, the routine is so short that it's easy to commit to, but it's just long enough to help me feel refreshed.

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.