A new study found that a type of breathwork (or breath training) performed for 30 minutes per day can lower blood pressure.
A special device and a technique called high-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) can lower systolic blood pressure by almost 10 mmHg and DBP by nearly 5 mmHg.
Daniel Harrison Craigheahd, Ph.D., breaks down his research and how the breathing technique actually works to lower blood pressure.
Taking a deep breath can do so much more than calm anxiety and lower your heart rate. A recent study found that a type of breath training, paired with an over-the-counter breathing device, can help lower blood pressure (BP) by almost 10 points.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology earlier this month, practiced breathwork, or breathing exercises, with a total of 128 healthy adults, aged 18 to 82, for six weeks.
Daniel Harrison Craighead, Ph.D., assistant research professor of integrative physiology of aging laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder, and co-author of the study, says breathwork is a broad term that refers to any sort of conscious control of breathing. Many types have been shown to have effects on BP when performed regularly for 30 minutes per day, according to Craighead. The specific type of breathwork used in the study for lowering BP is high-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training, (IMST), which involves taking 30 resisted breaths a day for five to 10 minutes through a handheld device that provides resistance. The trick is that each of those 30 inhales is really challenging and requires a lot of effort, he says.
According to Craighead, initial reductions in BP are observed within two weeks, which is faster than the BP benefits usually seen with more conventional forms of exercise. And your BP will continue to decline over at least the first six weeks of training and may decline more with prolonged training, he says.
High blood pressure can lead to a slew of health issues, such as heart attack and stroke, as well as aneurysms, cognitive decline, and kidney failure. Recent research has even found Americans’ blood pressure has been on the rise and was significantly higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than pre-pandemic. So now, more than ever, it’s important to take preventative measures and stay on top of your health.
Ahead, Craighead breaks down everything you need to know about breath training for lowering blood pressure.
How does breath training lower blood pressure?
IMST likely lowers BP in a few different ways, he explains. One is by turning down the activity of the sympathetic nervous system—your fight-or-flight response. People with high BP tend to have this system overactivated and the deep breathing techniques with IMST likely lower the activity. Another main mechanism is by improving the health of endothelial cells—the cells lining the inside of blood vessels and are critical for cardiovascular health. IMST might lower BP by making these cells function better.
How does it work?
During a single session, users will perform 30 resisted inspirations through a handheld device (he used the POWERbreathe) featuring an end-piece that loosely resembles a snorkel; there is no resistance to exhaling. You breathe in through the mouthpiece as quickly and powerfully as possible, trying to make as full of a breath as you can. While doing this, the device is providing resistance, making the inhale very challenging. The study had people do five sets of six successive resisted inhales, with a one-minute break of unresisted breathing between each set. Craighead notes that the last set of six breaths is usually very challenging and users will struggle to overcome the resistance of the device.
Who should try it?
Everyone should consult with their physician before performing IMST to make sure it is safe for them. In general, though, IMST will be safe for most people. Most of the research on IMST has been done in healthy adults or in adults with high BP. Thus far Craighead says they’ve seen that the BP benefits of IMST aren’t really impacted by age, sex, or body weight, suggesting IMST will be generally effective at lowering BP in most people. He says researchers are still studying various patient populations though, as such, we don’t currently know how effective IMST is for people with serious chronic illnesses.
If you’re interested in trying breathwork for lowering blood pressure, consult your doctor before purchasing any devices and practicing at home.
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