Millions of people have to learn to work with high blood pressure and structure time to get in exercise for cardiovascular health, so it’s welcome news that a new type of breathing exercise which only takes five minutes to complete offers almost equal protection.
Basically a workout for your lungs, it’s called Inspiratory Muscle Training or IMST. It’s breathing against resistance, in the form of nose clips which reduce air flow through the nostrils, or through devices which you breathe into that resemble breathalyzers. IMST has been popular with marathon runners for some time because when the lungs work more efficiently, other body parts get more oxygen, resulting in less fatigued leg muscles and faster aerobic performance times.
In the case of high blood pressure, it seems that strengthening the respiratory muscles results in the production of more nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels, thereby causing a lowering of blood pressure. Researchers applied IMST to healthy adults with higher-than-normal systolic blood pressure which was equal or greater than 120 and instructed one half of them to practice High-Resistance IMST while the other group was placebo controlled.
After six weeks, participants dropped their blood pressure by an average of 9 points! This was a better reduction than the recommended walking for 30 minutes, five days weekly intervention which is recommended to reduce high blood pressure—and also as good as some pharmaceutical medications aimed at lower blood pressure.
The results also lasted long after the six-week trial period. In addition to lowering blood pressure, participants had 45% more artery function and boosted their levels of nitric oxide (which is important for the relaxing and dilation of arteries and reducing plaque accumulation within the arteries).
The next step in this arena of research is a follow up study which is going to compare IMST to aerobic exercise for 12 weeks. If the results are good, your doctor maybe recommending IMST for high blood pressure in the very near future.
Daniel H. Craighead, Thomas C. Heinbockel, Kaitlin A. Freeberg, et al. Time‐Efficient Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training Lowers Blood Pressure and Improves Endothelial Function, NO Bioavailability, and Oxidative Stress in Midlife/Older Adults With Above‐Normal Blood Pressure. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2021; DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.121.020980