Researchers have conceived of a five-minute workout that does not require lifting weights or aerobic activity to improve blood pressure, boost brain function and more. The workout is called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), and it is currently in clinical trials.
A simple workout, IMST involves breathing in and out through a hand-held device called an inspiratory muscle trainer that provides resistance.
"IMST is basically strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with," said Daniel Craighead, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Colorado Boulder Integrative Physiology department who is leading the study.
"It's something 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."
IMST was first developed in the 1980s as a method to wean people off ventilators. Patients with lung diseases performed a 30-minute regimen daily to boost their lung capacity.
In 2016, however, University of Arizona researchers conducted a trial to see if just 30 inhalations per day might help sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea.
Improving systolic blood pressure
The patients not only reported more restful sleep but, after six weeks, their systolic blood pressure also decreased by 12 millimeters of mercury. This is a crucial improvement as 65 percent of mid-life adults have high systolic blood pressure.
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"That's when we got interested," said principal investigator Professor Doug Seals, director of CU Boulder's Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory.
Preliminary results from the trials show that with about half the tests done, there have been significant drops in blood pressure and improvements in large-artery function among those who performed IMST.
In addition, there were no changes in those who used a sham breathing device that delivered low-resistance proving the efficacy of the real device. Furthermore, the IMST group also reported performing better on cognitive and memory tests and lasting longer on a treadmill.
The workout is important because it is one busy adults can actually fit in their schedules. "Our goal is to develop time-efficient, evidence-based interventions that those busy mid-life adults will actually perform," said Seals.
The results are so positive that some cyclists and runners have already begun to use inspiratory muscle trainers. However, the researchers indicate that, for now, their findings are preliminary.
Still, with fewer than 10 percent of study participants dropping out and no side-effects from the trials, the researchers are optimistic.
"High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death in America," said Craighead. "Having another option in the toolbox to help prevent it would be a real victory."
Seals has been awarded a $450,000 National Institute of Aging grant to fund the clinical trial of IMST.