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This Trick Can Strengthen Your Heart in Minutes, Says New Study

And it's more effective than exercise, a new study says.

Heart health is complicated, and the best approach is to pursue multiple strategies, including diet and exercise. But a new study found that one simple trick—five minutes of breathing exercises, performed six days a week—can lower blood pressure and protect your heart. Read on—to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

Results were on par with blood pressure medication—and better than exercise

According to the study, which was published June 29 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, high-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training, or IMST, is a potentially life-saving practice. The study's authors describe it as "strength training for your breathing muscles," and they found it could help heart health just as much, and possibly more than, aerobic exercise.

During IMST, patients inhale through a handheld device that provides resistance. It was first developed in the '80s to help people with severe respiratory diseases. 

"There are a lot of lifestyle strategies we know can help people maintain cardiovascular health as they age. But the reality is, they take a lot of time and effort and can be expensive and hard for some people to access," said lead author Daniel Craighead, Ph.D., an assistant research professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. "IMST can be done in five minutes in your own home while you watch TV."

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The study involved 36 adults aged 50 to 79, all with above-normal blood pressure. Half of them did high-resistance IMST for five minutes a day, six days a week. The other half were given a placebo regimen.

After six weeks, the test group's systolic blood pressure was nine points lower, on average. Those are the kind of results produced by blood pressure medication, and they're superior to the effects of walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The researchers found that the participants' vascular endothelial function—the ability of arteries to expand—improved by 45%. Their levels of inflammation and oxidative stress also declined.

Even six weeks after stopping IMST, the study subjects retained most of that improvement.

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

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How can breath work lower BP?

The researchers aren't sure how a breathing exercise can lower blood pressure. They theorize it may help the cells lining blood vessels to produce more nitric oxide, enabling them to relax.

If the findings hold up, IMST could provide a lot of heart-protective results in a minimal amount of time. "We have identified a novel form of therapy that lowers blood pressure without giving people pharmacological compounds and with much higher adherence than aerobic exercise," said senior author Doug Seals, PhD, a distinguished professor of integrative physiology at the university. "That's noteworthy."

The National Institutes of Health have granted the researchers $4 million to do a larger follow-up study.

About 65% of adults over 50 in the U.S. have high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke or heart attack. But less than 40% of Americans get the amount of exercise recommended by experts like the CDC and the American Heart Association: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss The #1 Cause of Diabetes, According to Doctors.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael