Life Wellbeing Thirty breaths through this cheap device can lower blood pressure, fend off heart disease
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Thirty breaths through this cheap device can lower blood pressure, fend off heart disease

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It sounds like a tele-marketing scam: the five-minute workout that lowers blood pressure and improves vascular health!

Works just as well, or even better than aerobic or medication! All you need do is breathe! So easy you can watch TV while you get fit!

These are the findings of a new study that investigated High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) – strength training for your breathing muscles – as a strategy “for helping ageing adults fend off cardiovascular disease”.

IMST was developed in the 1980s as a way to help patients critically ill with respiratory disease strengthen their diaphragm and other inspiratory (breathing) muscles.

The idea was to wean these patients off ventilators.

The strategy has evolved into a treatment for asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It’s easy to do – by inhaling vigorously through a hand-held device which provides resistance. As the researchers describe it: “Imagine sucking hard through a tube that sucks back.”

From half an hour to five minutes

Generally, doctors – when treating breathing disorders – recommended 30 minutes IMST exercise per day at low resistance.

But in 2016, University of Arizona researchers published results from a trial to see if just 30 inhalations per day with greater resistance “might help sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea, who tend to have weak breathing muscles, rest better”.

In addition to more restful sleep and developing a stronger diaphragm and other inspiratory muscles, subjects showed an unexpected side effect after six weeks: Their systolic blood pressure plummeted by 12 millimetres of mercury.

That’s about twice as much of a decrease as aerobic exercise can yield and more than many medications deliver.

“That’s when we got interested,” said Professor Doug Seals, director of Colorado’s Integrative Physiology of Ageing Laboratory.

Dr Seals noted that systolic blood pressure, which signifies the pressure in your vessels when your heart beats, “naturally creeps up as arteries stiffen with age, leading to damage of blood-starved tissues and higher risk of heart attack, cognitive decline and kidney damage”.

So what about helping older people?

The researchers then began testing this more time-efficient protocol – 30 inhalations per day at high resistance, six days per week – with adults aged over 50 who were healthy aside from elevated systolic blood pressure.

While 30 minutes a day of exercise is widely recommended, it’s poorly adopted.

Could the shortened IMST routine “reap cardiovascular, cognitive and sports performance improvements” that you’d usually see in people working out for 30 minutes a day?

Said lead author Daniel Craighead, an assistant research professor in the Colorado’s Department of Integrative Physiology:

“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.”

How the study worked

The researchers recruited 36 otherwise healthy adults ages 50 to 79 with above-normal systolic blood pressure (meaning the top number in their blood pressure reading was 120 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 (the top number) 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 trial group maintained most of that improvement.

“We found that not only is it more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, the benefits may be longer lasting,” Dr Craighead said in a prepared statement.

The treatment group also saw a 45 per cent improvement in vascular endothelial function – 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 buildup.

Nitric oxide levels naturally decline with age.

Markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which can also boost heart attack risk, were significantly lower after people did IMST.

The researchers stress that their findings are preliminary, more research is necessary and curious individuals should ask their doctor before considering IMST.

A basic device can be bought online for about $25.