Taking just 30 deep breaths a day can protect against heart disease, with a specific breathing technique having been found to significantly lower blood pressure, improve vascular health, and reduce inflammation. Known as High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), the method may be as effective as regular exercise at enhancing cardiovascular health, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Originally developed in the 1980s as a treatment for patients with respiratory illnesses, IMST involves forcefully inhaling through a handheld device that provides resistance. This results in a strengthening of the diaphragm and other breathing muscles.
While half an hour of low-intensity IMST has historically been recommended for such patients, this latest study sought to examine the effects of short bursts of more vigorous breathing. The authors, therefore, recruited 36 patients between the ages of 50 and 79, all of whom had above average systolic blood pressure (SBP) but were otherwise healthy.
Over a period of six weeks, half of the participants took 30 IMST breaths a day with the resistance on their breathing device set to a high level, while the other half conducted the same exercise using sham devices that provided far less resistance. At the end of the trial, those that had engaged in genuine IMST displayed an average reduction in SBP of nine points, while those that conducted the placebo exercise saw no such improvements.
“This improvement in SBP is clinically meaningful because it is associated with a 30 percent to 40 percent lower risk of death from [cardiovascular disease],” write the study authors. They also note that this reduction is equal to or greater than those generated by other interventions, such as walking for 30 minutes a day or taking drugs to lower blood pressure.
Furthermore, the fact that IMST only requires about five minutes per day makes it much easier to stick to than many physical exercise regimens, especially for older people. As such, it may represent a more practical and realistic method of staving off high blood pressure.
While the researchers aren’t entirely sure how the breathing technique generates these improvements, they did note that the exercise caused the cells lining blood vessels to generate more nitric oxide, which helps arteries to dilate and avoid plaque build-up. On average, participants who engaged in the activity experienced a 45 percent increase in vascular endothelial function, while markers of inflammation and oxidative stress were also found to be lowered by the technique.
“The reduction in casual SBP was largely sustained after six weeks of abstaining from IMST, with about 75 percent of the initial reduction preserved,” write the study authors.
Importantly, these benefits were observed in postmenopausal women as well as older men, which is significant as aerobic exercise has been found to generate less vascular health improvements in the former group. The researchers, therefore, believe that regular IMST may represent an effective intervention for high blood pressure in women of menopausal age.
Summing up these findings, study author Daniel Craighead explained in a statement that “not only is [IMST] more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, the benefits may be longer lasting,” adding that the exercise “can be done in five minutes in your own home while you watch TV."