Lower Your Blood Pressure with Resistance Breathing

Article by Lucas Rockwood


If you have high blood pressure and you’re looking for a natural, scientifically proven way to lower it, this guide is for you. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and high blood pressure is a major contributing factor, affecting 25-50 percent of the adult population in most countries. Physical exercise, diet, and medication can all make a huge difference, but resistance breathing – also known as inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) – is a lesser-known, clinically proven strategy that delivers results with just 10 minutes of daily practice.

If you have high blood pressure and you’re looking for a natural, scientifically proven way to lower it, this guide is for you.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and high blood pressure is a major contributing factor, affecting 25-50 percent of the adult population in most countries. Physical exercise, diet, and medication can all make a huge difference, but resistance breathing – also known as inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) – is a lesser known, clinically proven strategy that delivers results with just 10 minutes of daily practice.

Here we’ll share some of the key scientific findings around resistance breathing and blood pressure, followed by a very simple practice that you can try at home. With consistent practice, most people can reduce their systolic blood pressure by 4-9 mmHg.


How does Resistance Breathing Work?

The initial study using inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) was published in 2011, and subsequent studies provide equally compelling results. To practice, you place an inexpensive air restricting device in your mouth and inhale forcefully, intentionally stressing the muscles of respiration, most notably your diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and accessory muscles of the chest, neck, and shoulders.

The clinical research suggests that optimal practice includes 5-minute breathing sessions repeated twice daily at 75 percent of your maximum resistance. To calculate your 75 percent, you’ll need to experiment and estimate to the best of your ability. If your maximum resistance is the setting where you’re unable to inhale at all, loosen the resistance by an estimated 25 percent to the point where it’s challenging but manageable to breathe in. Never strain to breathe, and if you feel light-headed or breathless, slow down and back off.

How does this work? Imagine you did bicep curls with a dumbbell, the weight would add resistance to your curl and stress your muscles, encouraging a strength adaptation over time. The same is true with resistance breathing. The added effort forces you to breathe with greater muscle intensity, and this allows you to safely build respiratory muscle strength.

Just as the exact causes of high blood pressure are unknown, the exact mechanisms of why resistance breathing works are not fully known. Here is what researchers assume is happening based on observations, tests, and hypotheses.

  • Greater strength of inspiratory muscles results in better breathing efficiency
  • Endothelial cell function improves, making more nitric oxide (NO) available, and NO is a natural vasodilator
  • A decrease in reactive oxygen species and a decrease in C-reactive protein
  • Reduced cortisol (stress hormone) resulting in a relaxation effect

What is a Resistance Breathing Device?


To practice, you’ll need a breath resistance device. There are dozens of manufacturers offering everything from simple, pocket-size devices, all the way up to high-tech, smartphone solutions. Remember, all you need is a simple way to add resistance to your inhaled breath, so I’d recommend the inexpensive, lightweight options. These are not medical devices, they are more like sports mouthguards with an air control valve, and you can purchase them online at most large retailers.


How to Practice Resistance Breathing

Download step-by-step PDF guide

Inhale slowly and deeply from your diaphragm to the count of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Exhale naturally through your nose and relax. Between sets, remove the device and breathe naturally through your nose. Aim for two resistance inhales per minute and aim for a total of five minutes of practice. Your objective is to practice this cycle twice a day.

  • Place your resistance device in your mouth and inhale 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8
  • Remove the device and exhale through your nose naturally
  • Breathe naturally in and out through your nose only until you’re ready for your next resistance breath
  • Aim for two resistance breaths per minute, but you can increase or decrease the pace based on your comfort

Best Practices and Safety

Breathing should be challenging, but not uncomfortable during this practice and it should not produce adverse effects. If you feel any dizziness, headache, or breathlessness, back off and do one breath per minute instead of two. Always err on the side of caution. Do not practice this while exercising, driving, or operating a vehicle – you should always be seated.

High blood pressure is potentially life threatening. Before you try any new self-care routine, please check with your doctor. Do not, under any circumstances, alter or discontinue any medication without consulting your physician.


Research


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