This Breathing Exercise Promises Heart, Brain Health Benefits

A breathing technique called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training has been found effective to help improve and maintain good heart and brain health. Researchers said it only requires five minutes for this exercise to improve blood pressure, lower heart attack risk, boost cognitive ability and enhance sports performance.

"IMST is basically strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with," Daniel Craighead, lead researcher and a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Colorado Boulder's Department of Integrative Physiology, said. 

The breathing exercise uses a hand-held device, called an inspiratory muscle trainer, which was originally built for respiratory problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis or cystic fibrosis.

In initial clinical trial in 2016, Craighead’s team found that using the device helped reduce the systolic blood pressure of participants by 12 millimeters of mercury, Medical News Today reported. Each participant performed 30 inhalations per day.

To see further benefits of IMST, the researchers conducted a follow-up study focused on vascular, cognitive and physical health of 50 middle-aged adults.

"Our goal is to develop time-efficient, evidence-based interventions that busy midlife adults will actually perform," senior investigator Doug Seals, director of the University of Colorado Boulder's Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory, said.

The team analyzed the effects of IMST by comparing the performance of people who use the technique with those who relied on a sham device that provided no resistance on inhalation. 

Results showed that the blood pressure of IMST participants went significantly lower and the function of their large arteries improved. IMST users also had better cognitive tests and treadmill tests compared to non-users. 

In the treadmill tests, they were able to run for longer while keeping their heart rate and oxygen consumption low.

IMST is the type of exercise that “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,” Craighead said. “Having another option in the toolbox to help prevent it would be a real victory."

The researchers presented their study at the annual Experimental Biology conference in Orlando, Fla.