- A new study found that a type of breathing (or breathing training) done for 30 minutes a day can lower blood pressure.
- A special device and technique called high resistance inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) can lower systolic blood pressure by almost 10 mmHg and DBP by almost 5 mmHg.
- Daniel Harrison Craigheahd, Ph.D., breaks down his research and how the breathing technique actually works to lower blood pressure.
Deep breathing can do much more than calm anxiety and lower your heart rate. A recent study found that one type of breathing training, combined with an over-the-counter breathing device, can help lower blood pressure (BP) by nearly 10 points.
The study, published in Journal of Applied Physiology Earlier this month, they practiced breathing, or breathing exercises, with a total of 128 healthy adults, ages 18 to 82, for six weeks.
Daniel Harrison Craighead, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the Laboratory of Integrative Physiology of Aging at the University of Colorado Boulder and co-author of the study, says that respiration is a broad term that refers to any type of conscious control of breathing. Many types have been shown to have effects on BP when done regularly for 30 minutes a day, according to Craighead. The specific type of breathing used in the study to lower BP is high resistance inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST), which involves taking 30 resisted breaths a day for five to 10 minutes through a device of hand that provides resistance. The trick is that each of those 30 inhalations is really hard and takes a lot of effort, he says.
According to Craighead, initial BP reductions are seen within two weeks, which is faster than the BP benefits typically seen with more conventional forms of exercise. And your BP will continue to decrease for at least the first six weeks of training and may decrease further with prolonged training, he says.
High blood pressure can lead to a host of health problems, including heart attack and stroke, as well as aneurysms, cognitive impairment, and kidney failure. recently research it has even found that the blood pressure of Americans has increased and it was significantly higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than before the 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 breathing training to lower blood pressure.
How does breathing training reduce blood pressure?
IMST probably lowers BP in a few different ways, he explains. One is to lower the activity of the sympathetic nervous system – your fight or flight response. People with high BP tend to have this system overactivated, and deep breathing techniques with IMST likely reduce the activity. Another main mechanism is improving the health of endothelial cells, the cells that line the inside of blood vessels and are critical for cardiovascular health. IMST could lower BP by making these cells work better.
How it works?
During a single session, users will take 30 resisted breaths through a hand-held device (he used the POWERbreathe) that includes an end piece that vaguely resembles a snorkel; there is no resistance to exhalation. You inhale through the mouthpiece as quickly and forcefully as possible, trying to breathe as much as possible. While doing this, the device provides resistance, making inhalation very difficult. The study had people take five sets of six successive resisted inhalations, with a one-minute break of unresisted breathing between each set. Craighead notes that the last set of six breaths is usually very difficult and users will struggle to overcome the resistance of the device.
Who should try it?
Everyone should check with their doctor before performing IMST to make sure it is safe for them. In general, however, 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. So far, Craighead says, they’ve seen that the BP benefits of IMST aren’t really affected by age, sex, or body weight, suggesting that IMST will be generally effective at lowering BP in most of people He says researchers are still studying various patient populations, although as such, we don’t currently know how effective IMST is for people with serious chronic illnesses.
If you’re interested in trying breathing to lower blood pressure, check with your doctor before buying any devices and practicing at home.
Emily Goldman is the senior editor of prevention. She has spent the past few years editing and writing health, wellness, beauty, food and more for Marthastewart.com and Bridalguide.com. She loves all things health and wellness since starting her bi-weekly podcast Pancreas Pals, a series about the ups and downs of life with type 1 diabetes. When she’s not podcasting, she spends most of her time in with a good book or watching a period piece on the BBC.