Science and Tech


5 Minutes Of Deep Breathing Could Help Your Heart And Brain Function

The same process used to help wean patients off ventilators may be helpful in short workouts to improve heart and brain health.
Posted at 1:44 PM, Mar 15, 2019

What if you could help your heart and brain function by working out for just five minutes? Researchers say that's enough time to see results, thanks to something called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST).

During IMST, patients inhale through a handheld device that provides extra resistance. It’s like sucking hard through a straw that sucks back.  Patients would breathe through them in 30 minute, low-resistance routines to improve their lung capacity.  

Doctors developed the technique in the 1980's to wean patients off ventilators. But in 2016, scientists found just 30 inhalations a day with more resistance could help with sleep apnea and improve systolic blood pressure. 

Now, with help from a National Institute on Aging grant, University of Colorado Boulder researchers are studying more benefits of the time-efficient exercise.

"We're looking at vascular function, which is how healthy the blood vessels are. We're looking at cerebral vascular function or how healthy the blood vessels in your brain are," Daniel Craighead, Integrative Physiology Researcher at CU Boulder said. "We're also looking at cognitive function. We're looking at physical performance to doing veto to match tests and a host of other motor function tests as well. And then we're taking samples from our subjects of blood and other cells that we can analyze for markers of how these improvements are happening."

So far, researchers found IMST is like strength-training for the muscles you inhale with. Their research is only half done, but they found IMST seems to improve large-artery function and memory for middle-aged patients with high blood pressure. 

"Lowering your blood pressure, they're improving their blood vessel health, their cognitive function is improving a little bit and their exercise tolerance time is increasing," Craighead said.

Those benefits sound promising, but researchers caution that IMST is still considered high-intensity exercise. They plan to keep studying its benefits, and warn that if someone wants to try it, they should ask their doctor first.