According to new research, a 5-minute breathing workout may be as effective as drugs at lowering blood pressure and improving vascular health.
Although breathing is often viewed as a process of getting oxygen into our lungs, it has quite a few benefits we are unaware of. From relieving stress to increasing focus during competitive sports, breathing affects it all. Thus, building on breathing’s therapeutic properties, in the 1980s researchers developed Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST). This particular method helped strengthen respiratory muscles and diaphragm of critically ill respiratory disease patients. It involved forcefully breathing in through a hand-held device, similar to an asthma puffer, that provided resistance. Now, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have successfully used the technique to lower blood pressure in older adults.
Generally, older adults have high blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. However, they are mostly unable to adapt the lifestyle modifications doctors prescribe for maintaining their cardiorespiratory health. Therefore, Professor Daniel Craighead and his colleagues aimed to test a more time-efficient and easy-to-do technique.
Originally, IMST was prescribed as a 30-minute-per-day regimen at low resistance. However, for the study, researchers tested shorter sessions of only five minutes and high resistance. The clinical trial involved 36 healthy adults aged between 50 to 79 years with higher-than-average systolic blood pressure. Half of the adults were part of a control group where they completed a low-resistance sham training. Whereas the other half underwent 6 weeks of high-resistance IMST. The sessions involved 5 minutes of 30 inhalations per day for six days a week.
Better Than Exercise?
The study authors published their findings in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Results revealed a significant drop in systolic blood pressure in the high-resistance IMST group; an average of nine points. This drop was greater than what is normally seen after aerobic exercise or blood pressure-lowering medicines. Moreover, this decline was maintained for 6 weeks after IMST. According to study authors, this drop in blood pressure causes a 30-40% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disorder. The control group did not have any such improvements.
Additionally, researchers also observed a 45% improvement in the vascular endothelial function of the IMST group. Study authors believe this may be due to the higher levels of nitric oxide seen in this group. Researchers also reported decreased levels of inflammatory markers in the IMST group. Thus, confirming the techniques’ role in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study authors believe that the breathing technique can serve as an effective intervention for people suffering from high blood pressure, especially postmenopausal women.
Daniel H. Craighead et al, Time‐Efficient Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training Lowers Blood Pressure and Improves Endothelial Function, NO Bioavailability, and Oxidative Stress in Midlife/Older Adults With Above‐Normal Blood Pressure, Journal of the American Heart Association (2021). DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.121.020980
Michael J. Joyner et al, Take a Deep, Resisted, Breath, Journal of the American Heart Association (2021). DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.121.022203