Last updated on Jun 22nd, 2021 at 02:51 pm

Could a five-minute workout a day reduce your heart attack risk and help you think more clearly?

According to preliminary results, five minutes daily of Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), lowers blood pressure, improves vascular health, boosts fitness and sharpens memory.

Strength-training breathing muscles

“IMST is basically strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with,” says Daniel Craighead, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Colorado Boulder Integrative Physiology department who is leading the study.

“It’s something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far it looks like it is very beneficial to lower blood pressure and possibly boost cognitive and physical performance.”

First designed to boost lung capacity

Developed in the 1980s as a means to wean critically ill people off ventilators, IMST involves breathing in vigorously through a hand-held device – an inspiratory muscle trainer – which provides resistance. Imagine sucking hard through a straw which sucks back.

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During early use in patients with lung diseases, patients performed a 30-minute, low-resistance regimen daily to boost their lung capacity.

Helped people with obstructive sleep apnoea

Then in 2016, University of Arizona researchers published the results of a trial which tested whether just 30 inhalations per day with greater resistance might help sufferers of obstructive sleep apnoea, who tend to have weak breathing muscles.

In addition to more restful sleep, 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,” says principal investigator Professor Doug Seals, director of CU Boulder’s Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory.

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Lowering blood pressure

Systolic blood pressure, which signifies the pressure in your vessels when your heart beats, naturally creeps up as arteries stiffen with age and lead to damage of blood-starved tissues and a higher risk of heart attack, cognitive decline and kidney damage.

While 30 minutes per day of aerobic exercise has clearly been shown to lower blood pressure, only about five percent of adults meet that minimum. Meanwhile, 65 per cent of mid-life adults have high systolic blood pressure.

“Our goal is to develop time-efficient, evidence-based interventions that those busy mid-life adults will actually perform,” says Seals, who was recently awarded a $450 000 National Institute of Aging grant to fund the clinical trial of IMST involving about 50 subjects.

The study’s preliminary results showed that with about half the tests done, the researchers have found significant drops in blood pressure and improvements in large-artery function among those who performed IMST, with no changes in those who used a sham breathing device that delivered low resistance.

The IMST group is also performing better on certain cognitive and memory tests.

When asked to exercise to exhaustion, they were also able to stay on the treadmill longer and keep their heart rate and oxygen consumption lower during exercise.

Some cyclists and runners have already begun to use commercially-available inspiratory muscle trainers to gain a competitive edge.

Consult your doctor

But Seals and Craighead stress that their findings are preliminary and curious individuals should ask their doctor before considering IMST.

That said, with a high compliance rate (fewer than 10 percent of study participants drop out) and no real side-effects, they’re optimistic.

“High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the number-one cause of death in America,” says Craighead. “Having another option in the toolbox to help prevent it would be a real victory.”

Source: University of Colorado at Boulder via

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