Over the course of a few weeks, just 5 minutes of breathing exercise a day can lower blood pressure just as well as medications and exercise – says a June 2021 study. Therefore, train your breathing muscles and not only you’ll experience a healthier blood pressure, but even more health benefits. In this article of Gazettely, we will introduce this five minute breathing exercise to lower blood pressure.
Breathing exercise is as effective as medication against high blood pressure
For high blood pressure, there is usually medication – and this often brings side effects. So how about exercising for just 5 minutes a day instead, which is completely free of side effects?
Indeed, exercising your respiratory muscles for just 5 minutes a day will reduce your blood pressure – and just as well or better than endurance exercise, as well as better than medication, says a study from the University of Colorado Boulder published in the June 2021 Journal of the American Heart Association.
This is the so-called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), which might prevent a leading cause of death in our time (cardiovascular disease).
Breathing exercise can be done in 5 minutes!
As Daniel Craighead, Professor of Integrative Physiology explains, “Of course, there are many, many ways to keep your cardiovascular health stable as you get older (ZDG reaction note: I’m sure he’s thinking of exercise and dietary changes). But these are often time-consuming, require some discipline, and are often expensive, so a lot of people fail. However, IMST is done in five minutes and can even be completed comfortably while watching TV.”
Respiratory exercise boosts respiratory muscles
Developed in the 1980s, IMST was particularly designed to help patients with serious respiratory diseases. Because IMST allows sufferers to reinforce their respiratory muscles and thereby ease their symptoms. Breathing muscles include the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles, the muscles located between the ribs that form the chest wall.
With IMST, you will breathe into a small device – a breathing or lung trainer – which, however, provides resistance, something that can be thought of as sucking on a tube that simultaneously sucks back at varying (adjustable) strengths.
6 weeks of breathing exercise as effective as blood pressure medication
Initially, low-resistance exercise was recommended daily for half an hour for respiratory disease. However, in recent years, Professor Craighead and his colleagues reviewed whether more time-efficient variations, say 30 inhalations/breaths (equivalent to about 5 minutes) per day with high resistance for six days per week, could lead to improved cardiovascular health as well as cognitive and even athletic performance.
Thirty-six adults (50-79 years) with high blood pressure (their systolic blood pressure was higher than 120 mmHg) took part in the current study. For 6 weeks, half underwent the respiratory training described (IMST with high resistance; 65 to 75 percent of maximal suction force), while the other half served as a placebo group and did the training with very low resistance (15 percent inhalation resistance).
When the study ended, systolic blood pressure in the IMST group was down an average of 9 mmHg, an achievement that even some blood pressure medications can’t beat. To achieve this goal with, for example, walking, one would need to exercise for 30 minutes on each of 5 days per week.
Furthermore, it was especially impressive that the positive changes in blood pressure lasted for a further 6 weeks after the 6-week training, despite the fact that the study volunteers were no longer practicing IMST at all during this time. “Not only is breathing exercise less time-consuming than usual exercise programs, but its beneficial effects appear to last even longer,” Professor Craighead said.
How breathing training lowers blood pressure
In particular, respiratory exercise is believed to lower blood pressure via a significant elevation of nitric oxide levels in the blood. Nitric oxide is a substance that cells in the blood vessel walls can manufacture that relaxes the arteries. As a result, blood flow is promoted and deposits on the blood vessel walls are prevented. Accordingly, a 45 percent improvement in vascular function (endothelial function) was found in the IMST group, meaning that the arteries can dilate and constrict rapidly and easily, as needed.
Because nitric oxide levels always decrease with age, there are other measures you can implement to ensure higher nitric oxide levels, like drinking a glass of beet juice every day and consuming plenty of green leafy vegetables.
A dietary supplement containing the amino acid L-arginine is also thought to increase nitric oxide and thus promote blood circulation, lower blood pressure and enhance performance. L-arginine is also popular for increasing potency precisely because of its blood circulation and performance-enhancing effect.
Following respiratory exercise, the participants’ inflammation levels and oxidative stress levels then dropped. When these values are elevated, an increased risk of heart attack must be expected.
Breathing training for menopausal women
For women in menopause, respiratory exercise can also be a good thing. Because we know from previous studies that these women are not able to achieve as good results in terms of vascular health through endurance exercise as men, for instance, in particular if they do not take estrogen supplements.
Breathing exercise, however, had no problem with their blood vessels responding. “Therefore, if endurance training does not improve your cardiovascular values, give other measures a try that can achieve the desired goal,” advises Professor Craighead, referring to IMST.
Breathing training is good for athletes too
Should you be one of those runners, IMST could potentially help you reach your athletic goals faster, as well. “If you run a marathon, then over time your respiratory muscles fatigue, needing more blood drawn from the skeletal muscles.
However, that in turn causes fatigue in your legs,” explains Professor Craighead, who uses IMST breathing exercise for his own marathon training. “However, now when you strengthen your breathing muscles, the effect described stays off for longer and your legs don’t get tired!”
Breathing training for Covid 19 patients
A stronger respiratory musculature means stronger and more efficient lungs. So if you do regular breathing exercise, you will be more resilient and less likely to get respiratory infections. Moreover, even if you have already had an infection and your lungs have been weakened as a result, you can still get your lungs back into shape with IMST – in accordance with your doctor, of course!
There is even already a study from April 2021 which shows that the lung functions of previously invasively ventilated Covid 19 patients improved so well after leaving the intensive care unit owing to two weeks of respiratory exercise that the corresponding researchers wrote: “IMT respiratory training should support the Covid 19 therapy concept, particularly in former intensive care patients.” (The IMT Threshold respiratory trainer device was used in this study).
The device for your breathing exercise
You can now find the devices you need for respiratory exercise in many variations and price ranges on the market.
While IMST respiratory training is considered very safe, it is still a good idea to talk to your doctor in advance – if nothing else, so that he or she can check your blood pressure accordingly and, when necessary, reduce your medication dosage when the effects of the training kick in.