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Strength training for the lungs


Apr. 11, 2019 The Telegraph

Do you need to strengthen the muscles you breathe with? According to the latest research, the answer is a resounding yes. Just five minutes of “strength training” for the lungs could improve everything from heart health to your memory – and it could even be a more effective tool for lowering blood pressure than aerobic exercise.

This week, the preliminary results of a clinical trial of 50 subjects trying a breath workout known as “Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training” (IMT) were presented by the University of Colorado at Boulder. They showed that as well as boosting brain function and breathing new life into athletic performance, breath resistance training can improve artery function and reduce the risk of heart attack.

And all without having to get changed for the gym.

How do you ‘lift weights’ for your lungs? The answer is a hand-held device known as an ‘inspiratory muscle training device’. You hold it to your mouth and it provides resistance to airflow, making you breathe in and out with more force. The sensation has been described as “sucking hard through a straw which sucks back”.

The novel gadget was developed in the 1980’s and used for low-resistance, daily 30 minute sessions to improve the lung capacity of people with lung diseases or asthma.

More recently, there have been experiments in heavier weight ‘lung lifting’. In 2016, the University of Arizona trialled it to find out if 30 inhalations a day with greater resistance might help sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea (snoring, to you and me), who tend to have weak breathing muscles.

The results were more than promising: not only did the participants enjoy a more restful sleep, but after six weeks, they noticed a few unexpected side effects. These included performing better on cognitive and memory tests – and, perhaps most significantly of all, their systolic blood pressure plummeted by 12 millimeters of mercury.

For context, that’s twice as much of a decrease in blood pressure that can be achieved via aerobic exercise, and far more effective than some medicines.

Systolic blood pressure creeps up as we age and as the arteries stiffen, and is associated with a risk of heart attack, cognitive decline and kidney damage (for the record, systolic blood pressure, is pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats, whereas diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats). Anyway, aerobic exercise is one way to decrease it – but few of us do enough.

Last year, research led by the London School of Economics and Political Science, found that exercise programmes, such as walking, jogging, or gym sessions, were often more effective at lowering blood pressure than medicines and drugs.

Running, walking, cycling, swimming and strength training are particularly effective – but for those of us who break out in a cold sweat at the very idea of physical exertion, IMT could be a solution to high blood pressure. It’s a positive cycle, too, because in turn, breath training should also make aerobic exercise easier in the first place.

And IMT appears to be easy to keep up: participants of the study were able to stick to their regime (fewer than 10 per cent of study participants dropped out, which is seen to be “high compliance rate”.) 

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