“We found that doing 30 breaths per day for six weeks lowers systolic blood pressure by about 9 millimeters of mercury,” Craighead says. And those reductions are about what could be expected with conventional aerobic exercise, he says — such as walking, running or cycling. A normal blood pressure reading is less than about 120/80 mmHg, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These days, some health care professionals diagnose patients with high blood pressure if their average reading is consistently 130/80 mmHg or higher, the CDC notes. The impact of a sustained 9 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure (the first number in the ratio) is significant, says Michael Joyner, a physician at the Mayo Clinic who studies how the nervous system regulates blood pressure. “That’s the type of reduction you see with a blood pressure drug,” Joyner says. Research has shown many common blood pressure medications lead to about a 9 mmHg reduction. The reductions are higher when people combine multiple medications, but a 10 mmHg reduction correlates with a 35% drop in the risk of stroke and a 25% drop in the risk of heart disease.
So, how exactly does breath training lower blood pressure? Craighead points to the role of endothelial cells, which line our blood vessels and promote the production of nitric oxide — a key compound that protects the heart. Nitric oxide helps widen our blood vessels, promoting good blood flow, which prevents the buildup of plaque in arteries. “What we found was that six weeks of IMST [inspiratory-muscle strength training] will increase endothelial function by about 45%,” Craighead explains. […] There may also be benefits for elite cyclists, runners and other endurance athletes, he says, citing data that six weeks of IMST increased aerobic exercise tolerance by 12% in middle-aged and older adults. “So we suspect that IMST consisting of only 30 breaths per day would be very helpful in endurance exercise events,” Craighead says. It’s a technique that athletes could add to their training regimens. Craighead, whose personal marathon best is 2 hours, 21 minutes, says he has incorporated IMST as part of his own training.
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