Five-Minute Breathing Workout Lowers Blood Pressure

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Five-Minute Breathing Workout Lowers Blood Pressure

 Jim Windell

            Do you take a daily medication to control your blood pressure? Are you trying to exercise regularly in order to keep your blood pressure in check?

           The chances are that if you are over age 50 you have abnormal blood pressure. Also, there’s a high likelihood that you do not meet the recommended aerobic exercise guidelines. Thus, you are at a greater risk of heart attack or stroke.

           But there is good news. There may be a breathing exercise that can replace both your meds and that exercise.

           The breathing exercise, called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) could not only control your blood pressure, but could potentially play a key role in helping you fend off cardiovascular disease – the nation's leading killer.

           A new study, published in 2021 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, provides the strongest evidence yet that the ultra-time-efficient maneuver known as High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) can reduce blood pressure in just weeks.

           For the new study, Daniel Craighead, an assistant research professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and his colleagues recruited 36 otherwise healthy adults ages 50 to 79 with above normal systolic blood pressure (120 millimeters of mercury or higher). Half of these participants did High-Resistance IMST for six weeks and the other 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 IMST group maintained most of that improvement. The treatment group also saw a 45% improvement in vascular endothelial function, or the ability for arteries to expand upon stimulation. And, in addition, this group had 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.

           "We found that not only is it more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, the benefits may be longer lasting," said lead author Craighead.

           IMST was developed in the 1980s as a way to help critically ill respiratory disease patients strengthen their diaphragm and other inspiratory (breathing) muscles. IMST involves inhaling vigorously through a hand-held device which provides resistance. Imagine sucking hard through a tube that sucks back.

           In the beginning, when prescribing IMST for breathing disorders, doctors recommended a 30-minute-per-day regimen at low resistance. But in recent years, Craighead and his associates have been testing whether a more time-efficient protocol – 30 inhalations per day at high resistance, six days per week – could also reap cardiovascular, cognitive and sports performance improvements.

           “There are a lot of lifestyle strategies that we know can help people maintain cardiovascular health as they age,” said Craighead. “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.”

           Craighead’s research group is currently developing a smartphone app to enable people to do the protocol at home using already commercially available devices.

           But the use of IMST may be particularly helpful for postmenopausal women, who often don’t reap as much benefit from aerobic exercise programs as men do when it comes to vascular endothelial function. And, some preliminary research results suggest IMST also tends to improve some measures of brain function and physical fitness.

           However, researchers suggest that those considering IMST should consult with their doctor first. But thus far, IMST has proven remarkably safe, they said.

           “It's easy to do, it doesn't take long, and we think it has a lot of potential to help a lot of people,” added Craighead.

           As you might have suspected, inspiratory muscle trainer devices are available on

           To read the original journal article, find it with this reference:

Daniel H. Craighead, Thomas C. Heinbockel, Kaitlin A. Freeberg, Matthew J. Rossman, Rachel A. Jackman, Lindsey R. Jankowski, Makinzie N. Hamilton, Brian P. Ziemba, Julie A. Reisz, Angelo D’Alessandro, L. Madden Brewster, Christopher A. DeSouza, Zhiying You, Michel Chonchol, E. Fiona Bailey, Douglas R. Seals. 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

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