An anonymous reader quotes the NPR post: It’s well known that weightlifting can strengthen our biceps and quads. Evidence is now accumulating that strengthening the muscles we use to breathe also has benefits. New research shows that a daily dose of training the diaphragm and other breathing muscles promotes heart health and lowers high blood pressure. “The muscles we use to breathe atrophy, like the rest of our muscles, as we age,” explains researcher Daniel Craighead, an integrative physiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. To test what happens when these muscles get a good workout, he and his colleagues recruited healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 82 to try a five-minute daily technique using a resistance breathing training device called PowerBreathe. The handheld machine – one of several on the market – looks like an inhaler. When people breathe into it, the device creates resistance, making it difficult to inhale.
“We found that doing 30 breaths a day for six weeks lowered systolic blood pressure by about 9 millimeters of mercury,” says Craighead. And those reductions are about what you’d expect from regular aerobic exercise, he says, like walking, running or cycling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. These days, some medical professionals diagnose patients with high blood pressure when their average value is consistently 130/80 mmHg. or higher, the CDC notes. The effect of a sustained decrease in systolic blood pressure by 9 mm Hg. (the first number in the ratio) is significant, says Michael Joyner, a Mayo Clinic physician who studies how the nervous system regulates blood pressure. “This is the type of reduction you see with a blood pressure medication,” Joyner says. Studies have shown that many common blood pressure medications lead to a reduction of about 9 mm Hg. The reduction is higher when people combine multiple drugs, but a reduction of 10 mm Hg. correlates with a 35% reduction in stroke risk and a 25% reduction in heart disease risk.
So, how exactly does breathing training lower blood pressure? Craighead points to the role of endothelial cells, which line our blood vessels and help produce nitric oxide, a key compound that protects the heart. Nitric oxide helps dilate our blood vessels, promoting good blood flow, which prevents plaque build-up in the arteries. “We found that six weeks of IMST [inspiratory-muscle strength training] increase endothelial function by about 45%,” explains Craighead. […] There may also be benefits for elite cyclists, runners and other endurance athletes, he says, citing evidence that six weeks of IMST increased aerobic exercise tolerance by 12% in middle-aged and older adults. “So we suspect that IMST consisting of just 30 breaths per day will be very beneficial in endurance exercise,” says Craighead. This is a technique that athletes can add to their training regimens. Craighead, whose marathon personal best is 2 hours 21 minutes, says he has incorporated IMST into his training.