Posted on 21 September 2022
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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: Muscle tissue tends to atrophy with old age, and the respiratory muscles we use to breathe are no exception. We know that resistance training is very effective for preserving muscle mass, and that muscle mass correlates with reduced mortality. Could training our respiratory muscles be beneficial as well?
What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers analysed data from five previous studies investigating the effects of high-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training in adults aged between 18 and 82 years old. In these studies, participants were randomised to receive an inhaler-like machine that provides resistance when attempting to inhale through it, or a low-resistance sham device. Participants then performed daily 5-minute breathing exercises (about 30 breaths per day) using this machine for around 6 weeks.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: By the end of the interventions, inspiratory muscle strength training was associated with an average decrease in systolic blood pressure of 9mm of mercury (9mmHg), which is comparable to the effect of many blood pressure-lowering drugs. A decrease in blood pressure could be seen at any age, but was more pronounced for older individuals. For reference, a 10mmHg decrease in systolic blood pressure roughly correlates with a 35% drop in the risk of stroke and a 25% drop in the risk of heart disease.
The present study suggests that inspiratory muscle training leads to blood pressure reductions by improving the function of endothelial cells, the cells that line our blood vessels. Endothelial cells release nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and plays a central role in cardiovascular health.
A resistance breathing device might not be necessary to produce similar benefits, as previous research suggests that diaphragmatic breathing exercises (often used in meditation) are associated with reduced blood pressure. The inspiratory muscle training devices used in this study (IMT devices) are purchasable from various companies, and provide the benefit of added resistance, meaning it probably takes less time to achieve the benefits associated with these breathing exercises.
A multi-trial, retrospective analysis of the antihypertensive effects of high-resistance, low-volume inspiratory muscle strength training: https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00425.2022