Pump up your breathing muscles

Pump up your breathing muscles

August 7, 2021 0 By Rick

Maybe you should fasten your seatbelt, especially if you’re older, because this might take your breath away. University of Colorado researchers say that a five-minute groundbreaking breathing exercise will lower blood pressure “as well as or even better than traditional exercise and prescription drugs.” This high-intensity burst of breathing can also improve cardiovascular health in older people. The exercise uses a hand-held device that provides resistance as you breathe. Called High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), this strength training for your breathing muscles works by a simple method. The device tries to suck the air back from you as you suck it in.

Elevated blood pressure
Almost two-thirds of Americans over 50 have elevated blood pressure. And this is probably true for in other western countries. Elevated blood pressure puts you at risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack. Even more troubling is the fact that fewer than half of these people get enough exercise. There are many lifestyle fitness strategies that help people maintain good cardiovascular health as they get older but working out takes a lot of effort and time. Gyms 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,” according to lead author Daniel Craighead (university release). In fact, this blood-pressure exercise is better (and quicker) than walking every day, the researchers say.

Stronger diaphragm
When you inhale vigorously through the device, the IMST creates resistance that helps you strengthen your diaphragm and other breathing muscles. The researchers studied 36 healthy adults between the ages of 50 and 79 with systolic blood pressure (the top number) above the recommended level of 120 mm/Hg. Half of the participants performed 30 inhalations/day at high resistance six days a week for a total of six weeks. The other 18 participants performed a placebo exercise with much lower resistance on the device. The results were breathtaking, pun intended. IMST participants lowered their systolic blood pressure by an average of nine points, which is better than the results high blood pressure patients get from walking 30 minutes a day five days a week. In fact, the researchers said the IMST study results are as good as you get from “certain blood pressure-lowering drugs prescribed to patients.”

More excellent results
he good news is that people who performed the IMST workout saw their blood pressure remain low even after they had stopped doing the breathing workouts for as long as six weeks. “We found not only is it more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, but the benefits may also be longer lasting,” according to Craighead. And here’s some more good news; IMST patients improved their vascular endothelial function (the ability for arteries to expand) by 45 percent. The participants also significantly increased their levels of nitric oxide, which plays a crucial role dilating the arteries and preventing plaque from accumulating. And if that wasn’t enough, the researchers found that inflammation and oxidative stress markers also decreased.

Brain function and overall fitness
IMST does more than strengthen your breathing, according to the researchers. It has a large impact on your brain functions and your level of overall fitness. “If you’re running a marathon, your respiratory muscles get tired and begin to steal blood from your skeletal muscles,” explains Craighead. “The idea is that if you build up endurance of those respiratory muscles, that won’t happen and your legs won’t get as fatigued.” Researchers aren’t clear on exactly how IMST helps to lower blood pressure. Current thinking is that this type of resistance training stimulates the cells in the lining of blood vessels to produce more nitric oxide, which helps the user relax. “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,” Craighead explains. There’s one group of people who can really benefit from IMST.

Nitric oxide When we inhale, we produce sound pulsations or vibrations that release a potent neurotransmitter that alleviates stress and prompts a change in our physiological state. Scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institut found that nasal breathing “results in 15 to 30% better oxygenation that mouth breathing.” What’s more, vibrating the nasal cavity while doing it (think of Didgeridu players) boosts nitric oxide by as much as 15 times. “Nitric oxide is a powerful molecule that crosses the blood-brain barrier and takes us from a vigilant and stressed into calmer, more resourceful states,” Jamie Wheel writes in his recent book “Recapture the Rapture.” Harvard’s Herbert Benson writes that “the calming response releases little puffs of nitric oxide, which has been linked to the production of such neurotransmitters as endorphins and dopamine.”

Postmenopausal women
Researchers believe this quick breathing workout may be a great alternative to exercise for postmenopausal women. Results show that postmenopausal women who take estrogen don’t benefit as much from aerobic exercise as older men do, especially where vascular endothelial function is concerned. The endothelium is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels. Endothelial cells release substances that control vascular relaxation and contraction. “If aerobic exercise won’t improve this key measure of cardiovascular health for postmenopausal women, they need another lifestyle intervention that will,” Craighead says. “This could be it.” You can read the study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.