Breathing workout lowers blood pressure as much as exercise

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Breathing workout lowers blood pressure as much as exercise or drugs according to a new study that shows that a breathing exercise known as Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training can reduce blood pressure in weeks, with benefits on par with daily exercise or medication.

Working out just five minutes daily via a practice described as “strength training for your breathing muscles” lowers blood pressure and improves some measures of vascular health as well as, or even more than, aerobic exercise or medication, new CU Boulder research shows.

The study, published June 29 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, provides the strongest evidence yet that the ultra-time-efficient manoeuvre known as High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) could play a key role in helping ageing adults fend off cardiovascular disease.

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“There are a lot of lifestyle strategies that 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. IMST can be done in five minutes in your own home while you watch TV,” said lead author Daniel Craighead, an assistant research professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology.

Developed in the 1980s as a way to help critically ill respiratory disease patients strengthen their diaphragm and other inspiratory (breathing) muscles, IMST involves inhaling vigorously through a hand-held device which provides resistance. Imagine sucking hard through a tube that sucks back.

Initially, when prescribing it for breathing disorders, doctors recommended a 30-minute-per-day regimen at low resistance. But in recent years, Craighead and colleagues have been testing whether a more time-efficient protocol – 30 inhalations per day at high resistance, six days per week – could also reap cardiovascular, cognitive and sports performance improvements.


For the new study, they recruited 36 otherwise healthy adults ages 50 to 79 with above normal systolic blood pressure, 120 millimeters of mercury or higher. Half did High-Resistance IMST for six weeks and half did a placebo protocol in which the resistance was much lower.

After six weeks, the IMST group saw their systolic blood pressure dip nine points on average, a reduction which 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 pressure-lowering drug regimens.

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


“We found that not only is it more time-efficient than traditional exercise programmes, the benefits may be longer lasting,” Craighead said.

The treatment group also saw a 45 per centimprovement 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 build-up. Nitric oxide levels naturally decline with age.

The practice may be particularly helpful for postmenopausal women.

In previous research showed that postmenopausal women who are not taking supplemental oestrogen do not reap as much benefit from aerobic exercise programmes as men do when it comes to vascular endothelial function. IMST, the new study showed, improved it just as much in these women as in men.

“If aerobic exercise won’t improve this key measure of cardiovascular health for postmenopausal women, they need another lifestyle intervention that will,” said Craighead. “This could be it.”


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Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.

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