Staying active is important for all of us, but especially anyone trying to lower their blood pressure or generally improve their heart health. However, new research claims we can achieve the same benefits of 30 minute cardio workouts from a simple five minute breathing exercise.
A study from the University of Colorado, Boulder, observed how a technique known as inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) affected 36 individuals between the ages of 50 and 79 who all had higher than normal blood pressure. IMST was developed in the 1980s to strengthen the diaphragm and other breathing muscles in patients with respiratory diseases. It involves using a device that creates different levels of resistance as you inhale. The study authors explain, “Imagine sucking hard through a tube that sucks back.”
Researchers split participants into two groups: One that used an ISMT device on a high resistance setting every day for a series of 30 inhalations (which takes roughly 5 minutes) over six weeks, and one that used a dummy device for the same amount of time but with very minimal resistance.
Those in the higher resistance group saw a nine point dip in their systolic blood pressure. The study authors claim this “generally exceeds that achieved by walking 30 minutes a day five days a week.” Even better, participants maintained the drop in their BP numbers over the next six weeks despite not continuing IMST.
They also showed signs of other cardiovascular health improvements, including a 45 percent increase in artery function, plus increased levels of nitric oxide and decreased levels of inflammation and oxidative stress. Brain function and physical fitness seemed to get a boost, too.
“We found not only is it more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, the benefits may be longer lasting,” lead author Daniel Craighead said. “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. IMST can be done in five minutes in your own home while you watch TV.”
Senior study author Doug Seals noted these results are particularly promising for postmenopausal women. Previous research from his lab found that women who’ve gone through the change but don’t take estrogen supplements also don’t get as many of the heart health benefits from aerobic exercise compared to men of the same age. However, that wasn’t the case with IMST, which showed the same level of improvement for postmenopausal women as any other participant.
More studies need to be done, but the study authors are hopeful. They’re also already at work on a smartphone app that people will be able to use with commercially available devices, like The Breather (Buy on Amazon, $56.95), with the specific intention of improving heart health.
Researchers emphasize that this isn’t meant to replace regular aerobic and cardio workouts entirely. It’s just another healthy option, especially for those who lack access to things like walking trails, gyms, or are physically restricted from certain types of movement. And hey, giving our heart a boost with just five minutes each day is an undeniable win for everyone!