- New research presented at the American Physiological Society annual meeting finds the benefits of certain muscles that control our breathing may extend to our fitness levels.
- High-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) is a resistance training used to strengthen our breathing muscles.
- Originally conceived during the 1980s, it’s a way to strengthen the breathing muscles by inhaling through a handheld device that creates resistance – like inhaling through a straw.
When you’re working out, you may be neglecting one group of muscles that can be key to your performance: those that help you breathe.
New research presented at the American Physiological Society annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2022 finds the benefits of certain muscles that control our breathing may extend to our fitness levels.
High-resistance inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) is a resistance training used to strengthen our breathing muscles.
Originally conceived during the 1980s, it’s a way to strengthen the breathing muscles of people with respiratory disease by inhaling through a handheld device that creates resistance – like inhaling through a straw.
“Conventional aerobic exercise can improve cardiorespiratory fitness and exercise tolerance, which are both independent risk factors for cardiovascular diseases,” Kaitlin Freeberg, a PhD student in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado (UC) Boulder, told Healthline.
“However, adherence to physical activity guidelines is poor in adults due to lack of time, suggesting that novel, time-efficient healthy lifestyle interventions are needed that can lower the risk for cardiovascular diseases with advancing age,” Freeberg said.
For this study, Freeberg and their team divided 35 people age 50 and older into two groups; one used IMST at high resistance, and the other was a “control” group that used the device at low resistance.
Both groups performed IMST training for 30 breaths (about five minutes) every day for six weeks.
The aim was to investigate whether six weeks of high-resistance IMST could improve cardiorespiratory fitness and/or exercise tolerance.
Findings after six weeks showed that the high-resistance group experienced a 12 percent improvement in a treadmill time to exhaustion test, while the low-resistance control group showed none.
“The 12 percent improvement in exercise tolerance with high-resistance IMST is promising as it evoked about three-quarters of the increase in exercise tolerance that has been seen with traditional aerobic exercise interventions while requiring much less time to complete,” said Freeberg.
“High-resistance IMST is a promising, time-efficient, low-barrier strategy for improving exercise tolerance and cardiovascular health in midlife and older adults,” she said.
Last June, UC Boulder researchers looked at how IMST could influence blood pressure.
Lead author Daniel Craighead, assistant research professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at UC Boulder, found the same 30 inhalations per day at high resistance protocol offered important benefits.
Assessed after six weeks, the IMST group experienced an average nine-point reduction in systolic blood pressure (the top number).
They also saw significantly improved arterial health and increases in nitric oxide levels, a molecule needed to prevent plaque buildup.
“We found not only is it more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, the benefits may be longer lasting,” Craighead said in a statement.
“IMST has been around for several decades and is a relatively inexpensive and easy to use device that can help train and improve the strength of the muscles that help inspiratory breathing,” said Jamie Wood, PT, PhD, a respiratory physiotherapist in the Department of Rehabilitation and Human Performance at the Mount Sinai Health System.
Wood explained that the muscles used during inhalation include the diaphragm and external intercostals (small muscles found between ribs).
“IMST is safe to use,” he said. “However, it should be implemented under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Wood cautioned that this was a small study with only 35 participants, so the findings may not apply to everyone. But he said that the study demonstrated benefits for people tested using a treadmill.
Wood added that it’s important to find out what the performance improvements mean.
“It is important to understand what the 12 percent improvement means in real units of measure,” he said. “And how this result will translate into other measures of physical function, and quality of life in the longer term.”
New research finds a type of exercise that focuses on muscles used for breathing can improve older people’s endurance on a treadmill test.
Experts say that IMST can increase strength in the muscles we use to breathe.
They also say that while safe, this protocol should be used under medical guidance.