Too busy to exercise? Don’t worry – even short, simple exercises can still be beneficial to your health, particularly heart health. A study carried out by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder showed that a five-minute breathing-based exercise could lower your blood pressure. This exercise could also potentially boost cognitive and physical performance.
For this study, the researchers investigated the potential benefits of the ultra-time-efficient exercise called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) on busy middle-aged adults. IMST is strength training for the muscles you use for inhaling. It can be done quickly in your home or office.
This type of exercise was developed in the 1980s as a strategy to wean critically ill people off ventilators. It involves breathing in intensely through a hand-held device known as an inspiratory muscle trainer, which provides resistance.
Based on preliminary evidence, the researchers found that participants who performed IMST showed improvements in their cardiovascular health. They experienced significant drops in blood pressure and improvements in large-artery function, compared with those who used a sham breathing device that delivered low-resistance.
The IMST group also performed better on cognitive and memory tests than the control group. In addition, they were able to stay on the treadmill longer and keep their heart rate and oxygen intake lower during exercise.
“We suspect that as you improve the function of your respiratory muscles, they don’t need as much blood to work and that blood can be redistributed to your legs so you exercise longer,” explained study researcher Daniel Craighead, a postdoctoral researcher in the Integrative Physiology department.
Craighead and his colleagues stressed that their results are preliminary and that those who want to try IMST should consult their physician first.
Participants in this study experienced more restful sleep and developed a stronger diaphragm and other inspiratory muscles. Six weeks after, their systolic blood pressure dropped by 12 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). That’s almost twice as much of a decline as what aerobic exercise can give and more than many blood pressure-lowering drugs. Systolic blood pressure naturally increases as arteries stiffen with age. High systolic blood pressure can lead to damaged blood-starved tissues and increased risk of heart attack, cognitive decline, and kidney damage.
Maintaining a healthy blood pressure
In addition to IMST, there are other natural ways to lower your blood pressure if you are hypertensive. Here are some things you can do:
- Limit your sodium intake – Most guidelines for lowering blood pressure suggest reducing sodium intake. Salt is a common ingredient in processed and prepared foods. Excessive intake of salty foods can cause many negative effects on health. Many studies also link salt to high blood pressure or stroke.
- Eat more potassium-rich foods – Eating potassium-rich foods like bananas, leafy greens, and tuna can help your body get rid of sodium and ease pressure on your blood vessels.
- Eat more berries – Berries are packed with polyphenols that can reduce blood pressure and the overall risk of heart disease. (Related: Blueberries lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.)
- Drink less alcohol – While drinking alcohol, especially red wine, in moderate amounts has a positive effect on heart health, drinking too much can raise your blood pressure.
- Quit smoking – Tobacco contains chemicals that damage blood vessels. So for every puff of cigarette smoke, your blood pressure can increase.
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Author: Melissa Smith