July 8, 2021 — The demands of daily life often hinder people from getting enough physical exercise. But according to a new study, all it takes is 5 minutes of breathing exercises, 6 days a week, to lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
The study, published June 29 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, shows high-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) — described by the authors as “strength training for your breathing muscles” — may help fend off some of the biggest killers in the United States.
IMST, first developed in the 1980s to help people with severe respiratory disease, involves inhaling through a handheld device that provides resistance. The study, from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, found it could help heart health just as much — if not more than — aerobic exercise.
“There are a lot of lifestyle strategies we know can help people maintain cardiovascular health as they age. But the reality is, they take a lot of time and effort and can be expensive and hard for some people to access,” lead author Daniel Craighead, PhD, an assistant research professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology, said in a news release. “IMST can be done in five minutes in your own home while you watch TV.”
About 65% of adults over 50 in the U.S. have high blood pressure, which makes heart attacks and strokes more likely. But fewer than 40% meet recommended aerobic exercise guidelines from the CDC.
Participants in the study included 36 adults ages 50 to 79, all with elevated pressure. Half were given high-resistance IMST for 5 minutes, 6 days a week. The other half had a more low-resistance placebo program.
After 6 weeks, the treatment group saw their systolic blood pressure — the top number — decline by nine points on average. This reduction is comparable to the effects of blood pressure medication and exceeds the effects of walking 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, the researchers found
The study authors also observed a 45% improvement in vascular endothelial function — how well arteries can expand.
What’s more, there was quite a bit less inflammation and oxidative stress, which are risk factors for heart attacks.
“We have identified a novel form of therapy that lowers blood pressure without giving people pharmacological compounds and with much higher adherence than aerobic exercise,” senior author Doug Seals, PhD, a distinguished professor of integrative physiology at the university, said in the news release. “That’s noteworthy.”