- Some form of breath training can lower blood pressure in just five minutes a day, new research suggests.
- A device that trains the respiratory muscles was found to be as effective as medication and weight loss.
- Breath training can provide quick results, but doesn’t replace other healthy habits, researcher says.
Taking just 30 deep breaths a day with a special device can treat or prevent high blood pressure as effectively as medication and weight loss, new research suggests.
A five-minute breathing exercise helps lower blood pressure and improve heart health, potentially benefiting people of all ages and lifestyles, according to a study published Sept. 15 in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Arizona conducted tests on a total of 128 healthy adults ages 18 to 82 who performed breathing exercises for six weeks.
Participants used a handheld device, similar to an inhaler, for about five to 10 minutes a day and took 30 deep breaths because the machine was resisting, so the respiratory muscles had to work harder to inhale.
Within two weeks, researchers began noticing improvements in the participants’ blood pressure, with only mild, transient muscle pain or dizziness as side effects. At the end of the trial, they saw an average reduction of 9 mmHg in systolic blood pressure.
The results are as effective as medication, potentially more effective than lifestyle changes such as reducing sodium or losing weight, and could continue to improve over time, according to Daniel Craighead, the study’s lead author and assistant research professor at the University. from Colorado Boulder.
“People can expect pretty quick results,” he told Insider. “We would expect that if you went longer, blood pressure would drop even more.”
The researchers were also surprised to find that the training appeared to be beneficial not only for people who needed to lower their blood pressure, but also for young, healthy participants.
“What’s really exciting about this is that it’s helpful for a wide variety of adults. People with blood pressure at unhealthy levels could benefit from adding this to their routine now,” Craighead said. “But a person can start in their 30s and stick with it for years to slow or prevent hypertension.”
Breathing with resistance may be a shortcut to health benefits, but not a substitute for exercise
Medical interest in breathing exercises is not new. Slow, deep breathing is associated with benefits such as stress relief, better sleep, healthier blood pressure and improved mental health.
But resistance training for your breathing can allow you to reap more benefits in much less time, similar to how lifting heavy weights can increase strength gains, Craighead said.
And unlike other treatments for high blood pressure, such as medication or traditional exercise, the benefits of breathing training can linger even after participants have stopped treatment, he added.
The study found that when participants tried training for six weeks, stopped for six weeks, and then retested, their blood pressure remained nearly as low as immediately after the training period. Craighead said the research team is now investigating whether a shorter “maintenance dose” of exercise could increase the benefits even more, with minimal time and effort.
They are also working on ways to help more people benefit from the technique. The lab trials used a $500 device, but Craighead said a cheaper, simpler version is now commercially available, and researchers are working on an app to train people to use it effectively.
Still, it is not a substitute for other healthy habits. According to Craighead, regular exercise and good nutrition are important for preserving muscle mass and keeping cholesterol low to prevent long-term chronic disease.
“It’s not a panacea for overall cardiovascular health, so people shouldn’t stop doing other forms of exercise,” he said.
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