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5-minute breathing exercise found to lower high blood pressure read…

High blood pressure: Lifestyle changes to reduce dangers

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High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often branded an “invisible killer” because it hikes your risk of heart disease without obvious warning signs. Given its prevalence – around one in three adults in the UK have high blood pressure – researchers are actively pursuing new ways to tackle an age-old problem. It’s well understood that diet can help to reduce hypertension but a rather unique approach has also been discovered: high-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST).

Developed in the 1980s as a way to help critically ill respiratory disease patients strengthen their diaphragm and other inspiratory (breathing) muscles, IMST involves inhaling vigorously through a hand-held device which provides resistance. Imagine sucking hard through a tube that sucks back.

Initially, when prescribing it for breathing disorders, doctors recommended a 30-minute-per-day regimen at low resistance.

But in recent years, Daniel Craighead, an integrative physiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, alongside colleagues, has been testing whether a more time-efficient protocol – 30 inhalations per day at high resistance, six days per week – could also reap cardiovascular, cognitive and sports performance improvements.

In a 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Professor Craighead and colleagues recruited 36 otherwise healthy adults ages 50 to 79 with above normal systolic blood pressure (120 millimeters of mercury or higher).

Half did High-Resistance IMST for six weeks and half did a placebo protocol in which the resistance was much lower.

After six weeks, the IMST group saw their systolic blood pressure (the top number) drop nine points on average – a reduction which generally exceeds that achieved by walking 30 minutes a day five days a week.

That decline is also equal to the effects of some blood pressure-lowering drug regimens.

Even six weeks after they quit doing IMST, the IMST group maintained most of that improvement.

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

The treatment group also saw a 45 percent improvement in vascular endothelial function, or the ability for arteries to expand upon stimulation, and a significant increase in levels of nitric oxide – a molecule key for dilating arteries and preventing plaque buildup. Nitric oxide levels naturally decline with age.

Markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which can also boost heart attack risk, were significantly lower after people did IMST.

And, remarkably, those in the IMST group completed 95 percent of the sessions, which suggests the practice is simple and quick enough to ensure adherence.

The evidence is encouraging but larger studies are needed to confirm these results.

Those considering IMST should consult with their doctor first. But thus far, IMST has proven remarkably safe, the study researchers said.

Systolic and diastolic blood pressure – what these numbers mean

Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.

The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.

Getting tested

The only way of knowing whether you have high blood pressure is to have a blood pressure test.

“All adults over 40 are advised to have their blood pressure checked at least every five years,” says the NHS.

Getting this done is easy and could save your life.

You can get your blood pressure tested at a number of places, including:

  • At your GP surgery
  • At some pharmacies
  • As part of your NHS Health Check
  • In some workplaces.

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