Plump Field

Half Mag / Half Zine

A five-minute breathing exercise that you can do while watching television can lower your blood pressure as much as medication, according to a new small study.

Described as “strength training for your breathing muscles”, it uses a hand-held medical device that provides resistance as a person inhales through a tube. Scientists say it can lower cardiovascular disease risk in aging adults—and could also aid athletes in running faster marathons.

High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) is meant to be done in reps like high-intensity interval training, with quicker, higher resistance breaths leading to “cardiovascular, cognitive, and sports performance improvements.”

The technique could be even more effective at lowering blood pressure than going for a run, especially in postmenopausal women.

Professor Doug Seals at the University of Colorado Boulder hailed it as an easy and drug-free option.

Developed in the 1980s for respiratory disease to help patients strengthen their diaphragm and other breathing muscles, the regimen was prescribed for 30-minute-per-day at low resistance.

But inspired by HIIT, researchers now believe 30 inhalations a day at high resistance, six days per week, could reap many benefits.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, recruited 36 healthy adults aged 50 to 79 with above-normal blood pressure with half doing high resistance IMST for six weeks and the others doing a placebo where the resistance was much lower.

Even six weeks after they quit doing IMST, they maintained most of that improvement.

The treatment group also saw a 45% improvement in vascular endothelial function, or the ability for arteries to expand upon stimulation, and a significant increase in levels of nitric oxide, a molecule key for dilating arteries and preventing plaque buildup. Nitric oxide levels naturally decline with age.

The IMST group saw their systolic blood pressure dip nine points on average, a reduction generally exceeds that achieved by walking 30 minutes a day five days a week.

That decline is also equal to the effects of some blood presssure-lowering drugs.

“We found that not only is it more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, but the benefits may also be longer-lasting,” said lead author Dr. Daniel Craighead, at UC Boulder. “If aerobic exercise won’t improve this key measure of cardiovascular health for postmenopausal women, they need another lifestyle intervention that will. This could be it.”

Craighead, who uses IMST for his own aerobic training, added, “It’s easy to do, it doesn’t take long, and we think it has a lot of potential to help a lot of people.”

Indeed, to have a form of therapy available that lowers blood pressure without drugs, or doing aerobic exercise, which so many people tend to abhor, would be a great option.

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded Seals $4 million to launch a larger follow-up study of about 100 people, comparing a 12-week IMST protocol head-to-head with aerobic exercise.

Meanwhile, the research group is developing a smartphone app to enable people to do the protocol at home using already commercially available devices.