Researchers said the results were as effective as taking blood pressure medication and possibly more effective than lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or reducing salt in your diet.
Using breathing techniques for 5 to 10 minutes a day might help lower blood pressure, according to a study completed at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the University of Arizona.
In their study, researchers instructed participants to complete breathing exercises for 5 to 10 minutes daily using a breathing device. The participants were told to take 30 breaths as the machine provided resistance, so their respiratory muscles work harder. The trial lasted six weeks. Within two weeks of using the device, the researchers said they noticed improvements in blood pressure. The only side effects noted were temporary sore muscles and lightheadedness. By the end of the six weeks, participants had an average decrease of 9mmHg in systolic blood pressure.
“A nine-point decrease in systolic blood pressure is tremendous,” Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Healthline. “While we have long known that deep breathing exercises can contribute to lowering blood pressure, it is surprising to learn of such a vigorous effect when adding resistance.”
“As a reference, exercising is expected to reduce systolic blood pressure by approximately 5 to 8 mmHg,” explained Dr. Jim Liu, a cardiologist and clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Sticking to a heart-healthy diet can decrease it by approximately 11 mmHg.” “Hypertension is classified into different stages, with stage 1 including systolic between 130 to 139 mmHg and stage 2 including [greater than] 140 mmHg systolic,” Liu said. “Treatment differs depending on the stage. Therefore, a decrease in 9 mmHg may be the difference between having to take versus not taking blood pressure medications.”
When participants tried the breath training for six weeks, then stopped for six weeks, their blood pressure remained almost as low as right after the training period. The study results were as of the end of the trial. Still, the researchers noted that blood pressure could continue to improve with long-term use. Young, healthy participants also benefitted from using the device. Researchers said improving the strength of the diaphragm and other breathing muscles is not what caused the drop in blood pressure.
“We think the large, forceful breaths done with respiratory muscle strength training device likely lower sympathetic activity (the fight or flight response), which tends to be overactive in people with higher blood pressure,” said Daniel Craighead, lead author of the study and an assistant research professional in the Integrative Physiology of Aging Lab at the University of Colorado School of Integrative Physiology. “We also think it improves the health of our blood vessels, which are critically important for preventing cardiovascular diseases,” he said
.“Managing blood pressure is a combination of lifestyle measures and medications, depending on how high it is,” said Liu. “If someone’s blood pressure is just slightly above goal, lifestyle changes might be enough to treat it.”
Tadwalkar suggests the following lifestyle measures:
- Be physically active
- Dietary changes that include reducing sodium intake and increasing potassium-rich foods, including certain greens, fruits, and yogurt
- Quit smoking
- Minimize consumption of alcoholic beverage
- Engage in stress management, such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, biofeedback, Qigong, and Tai-Chi