Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death here in the U.S., with doctors often prescribing medication and exercise to help people strengthen their respiratory muscles. But according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, there’s a simple, five-minute breathing technique that could be just as effective as meds or exercise for lowering high blood pressure, a major risk factor of cardiovascular disease. Here’s what it found.
What is Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training?
Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training, or IMST, was first developed to help people with severe respiratory disease strengthen their breathing muscles. It involves inhaling through a handheld device that resists your inhale, forcing you to inhale harder and more deeply. These devices are inexpensive and available online.
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For this study, researchers wanted to amp up the resistance but use a shorter duration than the standard 30-minute, low-resistance IMST method.
They had 36 adults (ages 50 to 79) with elevated blood pressure participate, with half of them doing high-resistance IMST for 30 inhalations (about five minutes) six days a week, and the other half doing a low-resistance placebo method.
After just six weeks, those doing high-resistance IMST lowered the group’s systolic blood pressure by nine points on average, and after another six weeks without doing IMST, the benefits had not yet worn off.
Their “vascular endothelial function,” which allows the arteries to expand when necessary, also improved by 45%, as did levels of nitric oxide, which helps prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. Inflammatory and oxidative stress markers also lowered in the IMST group.
Most notably, these improvements were just as good, if not better, than the benefits seen with aerobic exercise and medication. As lead author and assistant research professor Daniel Craighead, Ph.D., says in a news release, “We found not only is [high resistance IMST] more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, the benefits may be longer-lasting.”
Now, no one’s saying you shouldn’t exercise (or take your medication) just because breathing into a resistance device was effective in one study. However, this research is a wonderful reminder of the power of controlled breathing.
And as Craighead says, “The reality is, [exercise and/or medication can] take a lot of time and effort and can be expensive and hard for some people to access; IMST can be done in five minutes in your own home while you watch TV.” Not a bad deal, if you ask us—just be sure to talk to your doctor if you want to incorporate this method into your existing routine for high blood pressure.