Research has shown that exercising for 5 minutes daily using breathing exercises called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training, or IMST, lowers blood pressure and improves some vascular health measures compared to medication or aerobic exercise.

Study results provide strong evidence that this time-efficient exercise can play an important role in helping older people prevent heart disease.

In the United States alone, 65% of people over the age of 50 have high blood pressure, which puts them at higher risk for stroke or heart attack. But less than 40% meet the recommended guidelines for aerobic exercise.

There are many lifestyle strategies that can help people maintain heart health because they take a lot of time and effort as they get older and can be expensive and difficult for some people to reach. Watching IMST television can be done in 5 minutes at the convenience of your own home.

IMST was developed in the 1980’s to help critically ill respiratory patients strengthen their diaphragm and other breathing muscles, and incorporate strong breathing through resistance-providing hand-held devices.

When initially prescribing it for respiratory disorders, physicians recommended a daily 30-minute schedule at low resistance. But in the last few years, researchers have been testing whether taking 30 breaths daily at high resistance, even 6 days a week, can provide cognitive and heart attack improvements.

The researchers recruited 36 individuals between the ages of 50 and 79 who were otherwise healthy with systolic blood pressure above normal. Half of them performed IMST at high resistance for 6 weeks and half of them performed the placebo low resistance protocol.

The systolic blood pressure of the IMST group decreased by an average of 9 points after 6 weeks, a decrease which is more than normally achieved by walking 30 minutes every day, 5 days a week. That reduction is comparable to the effects of certain blood pressure lowering drugs.

Even 6 weeks after participants stopped practicing IMST, they maintained almost all of the improvements, indicating that the benefits may last longer than traditional exercise programs.

The IMST group also experienced a 45% improvement in vascular endothelial function, as well as increased nitric oxide levels, a key molecule for dilating arteries and preventing plaque formation. Nitric oxide levels naturally decrease with age. Oxidative stress and inflammatory markers, which may also increase the risk of heart attack, decreased significantly after individuals practiced IMST.

This practice can be especially beneficial for postmenopausal women. Researchers have established in previous studies that postmenopausal women who do not use estrogen supplements may not benefit as much from aerobic exercise programs as men do from vascular endothelial function. In a recent study, IMST improved these women as much as men.

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