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IMST Breathing for Cardiovascular Health

5 minutes a day of “power breathing” has proven health benefits.

Graphic of lungs with barbell above it to show strengthening benefits of IMST breathing

What if you could help clients become more resilient to stress and teach them something that might help them lower their blood pressure? Douglas R. Seals, PhD, distinguished professor of integrative physiology at Colorado University Boulder, shares a “noteworthy” therapeutic technique, IMST.

“We have identified a novel form of therapy that lowers blood pressure without giving people pharmacological compounds and [has] much higher adherence than aerobic exercise,” said Seals. According to a report in the Journal of the American Heart Association (2021; 10 [13]), preliminary evidence suggests that a time-efficient breathing practice referred to as High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) offers multiple benefits, particularly for cardiovascular health.

Study authors describe the exercise as “strength training for your breathing muscles.” Participants included men and postmenopausal women ages 50–79 who had elevated systolic blood pressure. They were divided into two groups—IMST and sham training. Those in the treatment group experienced an average 9-point drop in systolic blood pressure—equivalent to reductions achieved by drug treatment or by adding 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week. Additionally, compared with assessments done 6 weeks prior to study start, subjects improved blood vessel health; increased nitric oxide levels (key for dilating arteries and preventing plaque buildup); significantly lowered markers of inflammation and oxidative stress; and improved exercise tolerance time.

What is the practice? It consists of taking 30 deep breaths—five sets of six breaths, with a 1-minute rest between sets—using a POWERbreathe device that provides resistance on inhalation, at least 6 days per week, over a 6-week period.

To learn more about the study, watch a video at youtu.be/3KueabH8B8M.

See also: Breathwork Practices Gaining Popularity

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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