How to live longer: The five-minute daily exercise that can promote longevity within weeks

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Heart and circulatory diseases cause around a quarter of all deaths in the UK – that’s more than 160,000 deaths each year – an average of 450 deaths each day or one every three minutes in the UK, reports the British Heart Foundation. Robust heart health is therefore a reliable predictor of life expectancy.

Fortunately, a five-minute daily exercise has been shown to counter the mechanisms that contribute to poor heart health.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has found simple breathing exercise lowers blood pressure and improves some measures of vascular health and these benefits accrue within weeks.

The study illustrated that the time-saving exercise known as High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) lowers these heart disease markers as well as, or even more than, aerobic exercise or medication.

“There are a lot of lifestyle strategies that we know can help people maintain cardiovascular health as they age.

But the reality is, they take a lot of time and effort and can be expensive and hard for some people to access,” said lead author Daniel Craighead, an assistant research professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology.

“IMST can be done in five minutes in your own home while you watch TV.”

IMST involves inhaling vigorously through a hand-held device which provides resistance.

Initially, when prescribing it for breathing disorders, the standard practice recommended by doctors involves a 30-minute-per-day regimen at low resistance.

But Craighead and colleagues have been testing whether a more time-efficient protocol – 30 inhalations per day at high resistance, six days per week – could also provide benefits.

For the new study, they recruited 36 otherwise healthy adults ages 50 to 79 with above normal systolic blood pressure.

Half did High-Resistance IMST for six weeks and half did a placebo protocol in which the resistance was much lower.

After six weeks, the IMST group saw their systolic blood pressure (the top number) dip nine points on average, a reduction which generally exceeds that achieved by walking 30 minutes a day five days a week.

That decline is also equal to the effects of some blood pressure-lowering drug regimens.

Systolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure the blood exerts against artery walls while the heart beats – it is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Even six weeks after they quit doing IMST, the IMST group maintained most of that improvement.

What’s more, the treatment group also saw a 45 percent improvement in vascular endothelial function, or the ability for arteries to expand upon stimulation, and a significant increase in levels of nitric oxide, a molecule key for dilating arteries and preventing plaque buildup.

In addition, markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which can also boost heart attack risk, were significantly lower after people did IMST.

The level of participation was also testament to the ease of use: those in the IMST group completed 95 percent of the sessions.

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