It’s well known that weightlifting can strengthen our biceps and quads. Now, there’s accumulating evidence that strengthening the muscles we use to breathe is beneficial too. New research shows that a daily dose of muscle training for the diaphragm and other breathing muscles helps promote heart health and reduces high blood pressure.
“The muscles we use to breathe atrophy, just like the rest of our muscles tend to do as we get older,” explains researcher Daniel Craighead, an integrative physiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. To test what happens when these muscles are given a good workout, he and his colleagues recruited healthy volunteers ages 18 to 82to try a daily five-minute technique using a resistance-breathing training device called PowerBreathe. The hand-held machine — one of several on the market — looks like an inhaler. When people breathe into it, the device provides resistance, making it harder to inhale.
“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.