Simple 5-minute workout improves blood pressure, brain activity

Tom Heinbockel, a master's student in the Integrative Physiology department at the University of Colorado Boulder, demonstrates using a Power Breathe device. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Could working out five minutes a day, without lifting a single weight or jogging a single step, reduce your heart attack risk, help you think more clearly and boost your sports performance?

Preliminary results from a clinical trial held at the University of Colorado in the United States, shows that Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), could potentially reduce your heart attack risk, help you think more clearly and boost your sports performance.

Basically a strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with, IMST is something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far it looks like it as, if not more, beneficial to lower blood pressure and boost cognitive and physical performance, than regular workouts and treadmills.

The technique behind IMST involves breathing in vigorously through a handheld device — an inspiratory muscle trainer — that provides resistance to inhaling. Earlier used to treat patients with lung diseases, IMST was later extended to those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea patients, who tend to have weak breathing muscles. A welcome side effect was that systolic blood pressure of apnea patients plummeted significantly.

Systolic blood pressure, which signifies the pressure in your vessels when your heart beats, naturally creeps up as arteries stiffen with age, leading to damage of blood-starved tissues and higher risk of heart attack, cognitive decline and kidney damage.

Researchers behind IMST say that they measured significant drops in blood pressure and improvements in large-artery function among those who performed IMST, with no changes in those who used a sham breathing device that delivered low-resistance.

The IMST group also performed better on certain cognitive and memory tests. When asked to exercise to exhaustion, they were also able to stay on the treadmill longer and keep their heart rate and oxygen consumption lower during exercise.

That said, with a high compliance rate (fewer than 10 percent of study participants drop out) and no real side-effects, the researchers are optimistic about the future of IMST.