In what is sure to be welcome news to those of us who have struggled to do something even approaching the American Heart Association’s recommended amount of exercise—namely, at least 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity physical activity” practiced five times per week—a group of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has discovered the surprising result that a five-minute daily breathing workout, which is described as “strength training for the breathing muscles,” was more effective at reducing blood pressure than the traditional 30-minute/5-times-per-week walk (or other moderate activity), and just as good at lowering blood pressure as prescription antihypertensive medications.
What Is the Breathing Workout and How Was It Developed?
What became the “5-minute breathing workout”—which is actually called High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) by the study authors--was originally developed in the 1980s to help patients with severe respiratory diseases strengthen their diaphragm and other breathing (inspiratory) muscles in the lungs.
IMST involves the patient inhaling as vigorously as they can through a tube, the other end of which is attached to a hand-held device which provides resistance as the patient inhales. Initially, the IMST method used low resistance, and patients were told to use it for 30 minutes per day. However, the investigators found that the method could be modified to use high resistance, and with 30 breaths, one treatment per day could be completed. In this fashion, patients found it easy to complete, and had 95% compliance even after the six-week study period.
The Training Brings Substantial Cardioprotective Benefits
But that’s not all: The study also found that the 5-minute workout could have cardioprotective potential as well, because those patients in the study who continued to practice it showed significantly reduced blood levels of known stress and inflammatory biomarkers. How were these measured? Systemic oxidative stress, antioxidant defenses, inflammation, and sympathoadrenal activity were all assessed. Accordingly, plasma levels of the following biomarkers as to the foregoing were measured: interleukin (IL)‐6, IL‐10, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α; oxidized low‐density lipoprotein (LDL); high‐sensitivity C‐reactive protein (hsCRP); norepinephrine and epinephrine. Conversely, those in the treatment group also exhibited a dramatic increase in vascular endothelial function, with a concomitant rise in nitric oxide levels when these were measured.
Especially Relevant Now With COVID
The combined evidence would suggest that the 5-minute breathing workout should be widely adopted, due to its exciting rehabilitative potential, ease of use, and many apparent health benefits in protecting against heart disease. This simple method of training the breathing muscles is especially timely now with so many people recovering from the complications of COVID 19.
 Such physical activity might include such things as brisk walking, golfing, tennis, or gardening.
 Craighead, DH, et al. Time‐Efficient Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training Lowers Blood Pressure and Improves Endothelial Function, NO Bioavailability, and Oxidative Stress in Midlife/Older Adults With Above‐Normal Blood Pressure. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2021; doi: 10.1161/JAHA.121.020980