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5-minute workout lowers blood pressure as much as exercise, drugs

The ultra-time-efficient maneuver known as High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) could play a key role in helping aging adults fend off cardiovascular disease.

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Working out just five minutes daily via a practice described as “strength training for your breathing muscles” lowers blood pressure and improves some measures of vascular health as well as, or even more than, aerobic exercise or medication, new CU Boulder research shows.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, provides the strongest evidence yet that the ultra-time-efficient maneuver known as High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) could play a key role in helping aging adults fend off cardiovascular disease.

In the United States alone, 65% of adults over age 50 have above-normal blood pressure – putting them at greater risk of heart attack or stroke. Yet fewer than 40% meet recommended aerobic exercise guidelines.

“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.”

Developed in the 1980s as a way to help critically ill respiratory disease patients strengthen their diaphragm and other inspiratory (breathing) muscles, IMST involves inhaling vigorously through a hand-held device which provides resistance. Imagine sucking hard through a tube that sucks back.

Initially, when prescribing it for breathing disorders, doctors recommended a 30-minute-per-day regimen at low resistance. But in recent years, 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 reap cardiovascular, cognitive and sports performance improvements.

For the new study, they recruited 36 otherwise healthy adults ages 50 to 79 with above normal systolic blood pressure (120 millimeters of mercury or higher). 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.

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

“We found that not only is it more time-efficient than traditional exercise programs, the benefits may be longer lasting,” Craighead said.

The treatment group also saw a 45% 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. Nitric oxide levels naturally decline with age.

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

And, remarkably, those in the IMST group completed 95% of the sessions.

“We have identified a novel form of therapy that lowers blood pressure without giving people pharmacological compounds and with much higher adherence than aerobic exercise,” said senior author Doug Seals, a Distinguished Professor of Integrative Physiology. “That’s noteworthy.”

The practice may be particularly helpful for postmenopausal women.

In previous research, Seals’ lab showed that postmenopausal women who are not taking supplemental estrogen don’t reap as much benefit from aerobic exercise programs as men do when it comes to vascular endothelial function. IMST, the new study showed, improved it just as much in these women as in men.

“If aerobic exercise won’t improve this key measure of cardiovascular health for postmenopausal women, they need another lifestyle intervention that will,” said Craighead. “This could be it.”

Preliminary results suggest MST also improved some measures of brain function and physical fitness. And previous studies from other researchers have shown it can be useful for improving sports performance.

“If you’re running a marathon, your respiratory muscles get tired and begin to steal blood from your skeletal muscles,” said Craighead, who uses IMST in his own marathon training. “The idea is that if you build up endurance of those respiratory muscles, that won’t happen and your legs won’t get as fatigued.”

Seals said they’re uncertain exactly how a maneuver to strengthen breathing muscles ends up lowering blood pressure, but they suspect it prompts the cells lining blood vessels to produce more nitric oxide, enabling them to relax.

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded Seals $4 million to launch a larger follow-up study of about 100 people, comparing a 12-week IMST protocol head-to-head with an aerobic exercise program.

Meanwhile, the research group is developing a smartphone app to enable people to do the protocol at home using already commercially available devices.

Those considering IMST should consult with their doctor first. But thus far, IMST has proven remarkably safe, they said.

“It’s easy to do, it doesn’t take long, and we think it has a lot of potential to help a lot of people,” said Craighead.

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5 Steps for women to reduce their risk of COPD

Women tend to develop COPD earlier in life than men and are more likely to have severe symptoms and be hospitalized with the disease. The good news? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for COPD.

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If you’re a woman who tries to stay healthy, you may exercise several times per week, watch what you eat and get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But are you listening to your lungs?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a leading cause of disability and death in the United States, takes an especially heavy toll on women. You may think problems like shortness of breath, frequent coughs or wheezing are just signs of getting older, but it’s important to pay attention to these symptoms and discuss them with your doctor.

COPD is a serious lung disease that causes breathing problems and worsens over time. It has often been considered a man’s disease. Yet more women than men have been diagnosed with COPD in the past decade, and over the past 20 years more women have died from it, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women tend to develop COPD earlier in life than men and are more likely to have severe symptoms and be hospitalized with the disease. The good news? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for COPD.

Don’t Smoke

You probably already know cigarette smoking is harmful  but did you know that women may be more vulnerable to the effects of smoking? Women who smoke tend to get COPD at younger ages and with less cigarettes smoked than men. COPD is the leading cause of death among U.S. women smokers.

If you do smoke, it’s never too late to quit.

If you thought vaping was a healthy alternative to smoking, think again. Researchers are still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, but they may contain as many, if not more, harmful chemicals than tobacco cigarettes.

Avoid Pollutants

Among people with COPD who have never smoked, most are women. Women may be more vulnerable to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Women’s smaller lungs and airways mean the same amount of inhaled pollutants may cause more damage.

Working in places like nail salons, hair salons or dry cleaners can expose you to harmful chemicals. If you’re exposed to chemical fumes at your job, talk to your employer about ways to limit exposure. Better ventilation and wearing a mask can help.

Stay Current on Vaccines

People at risk for COPD are more likely to have serious problems resulting from some vaccine-preventable diseases. Ask a health care provider about getting vaccinated against the flu, pneumococcal disease and COVID-19.

Talk to Your Doctor About COPD

Women with COPD tend to be diagnosed later than men when the disease is more severe and treatments are less effective. If you think you could be at risk, or you are having symptoms, bring it up with your health care provider. Treatment can ease symptoms and improve your ability to exercise.

Learn More to Breathe Better

Find more information on COPD from NHLBI’s Learn More Breathe Better program at copd.nhlbi.nih.gov.

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Wellness

Sports like soccer, basketball better for young athletes’ bone health than running alone

The study’s findings support recommendations that athletes delay specialization in running and play multi-directional sports when younger to build a more robust skeleton – and potentially prevent bone stress injuries.

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Young athletes who participate in multidirectional sports, instead of specializing in a unidirectional sport like running, can build stronger bones that may be at less risk for bone injuries as adults, according to a new study from Indiana University researchers.

Published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the study examined Division I and II female cross country runners, who often experience bone stress injuries like stress fractures. The researchers found that athletes who ran and participated in sports that require movement in many directions – such as basketball or soccer – when younger had better bone structure and strength than those who solely ran, swam or cycled.

As a result, the study’s findings support recommendations that athletes delay specialization in running and play multi-directional sports when younger to build a more robust skeleton – and potentially prevent bone stress injuries.

Media kit: Access video interview with Stuart Warden

“Our data shows that playing multidirectional sports when younger versus specializing in one sport, such as running, decreased a person’s bone injury risk by developing a bigger, stronger skeleton,” said Stuart Warden, associate dean for research and Chancellor’s Professor in the IU School of Health and Human Sciences at IUPUI. “There is a common misperception that kids need to specialize in a single sport to succeed at higher levels. However, recent data indicate that athletes who specialize at a young age are at a greater risk of an overuse injury and are less likely to progress to higher levels of competition.”

Historically, Warden said, researchers have examined the bone’s mass – how much bone a person has – to determine how healthy their skeleton will be through life. But in previous studies, Warden and his colleagues found that as a person ages, both mass and size are equally important.

In the current study, the researchers used high-resolution imaging to assess the shin bone near the ankle and bones in the feet where bone stress injuries frequently occur in runners. They found that the athletes who participated in both running and multidirectional sports when younger had 10 to 20 percent greater bone strength than athletes who solely ran.

“Our research shows that the runners who played multidirectional sports when younger had stronger bones as collegiate athletes, which puts them at less risk for bone stress injuries including stress fractures,” Warden said. “We want to ensure people have better, stronger bones as they grow, become adolescents and go through life. Specializing in one sport at too young of an age means they are more likely to get injured and not make it at the collegiate and professional levels.”

Warden said that anyone who oversees a junior athlete or team – whether that be parents, coaches or trainers – should think twice about pushing them to specialize in one area too early. To allow for proper growth and development to occur, he recommends young athletes not specialize until at least their freshman year of high school. For athletes who already play multidirectional sports, he said it is important that they take time off for rest and recovery during the year, which can improve both bone strength and performance.

Additional authors on the study were Austin Sventeckis, Ph.D. student, and Robyn Fuchs, associate professor, of the IU School of Health and Human Sciences at IUPUI, and Rachel Surowiec of the School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI.

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Wellness

Vegans who lift weights may have stronger bones than other people on a plant-based diet

The researchers found vegan participants who did resistance training exercises such as using machines, free weights, or bodyweight resistance exercises at least once a week had stronger bones than those who did not. They also found vegans and omnivores who engaged in resistance training had similar bone structure.

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Photo by Meghan Holmes from Unsplash.com

People on a plant-based diet who do strength training as opposed to other forms of exercise such as biking or swimming may have stronger bones than other people on a vegan diet, according to new research published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

About 6 percent of people in the US are vegans. Recent research shows a plant-based diet can be associated with lower bone mineral density and increased fracture risk.

“Veganism is a global trend with strongly increasing numbers of people worldwide adhering to a purely plant-based diet,” said Christian Muschitz, M.D., of St. Vincent Hospital Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna in Vienna, Austria. “Our study showed resistance training offsets diminished bone structure in vegan people when compared to omnivores.”

The authors compared data from 43 men and women on a plant-based diet for at least five years and 45 men and women on an omnivore diet for at least five years. Omnivores eat meat as well as plant-based foods.

The researchers found vegan participants who did resistance training exercises such as using machines, free weights, or bodyweight resistance exercises at least once a week had stronger bones than those who did not. They also found vegans and omnivores who engaged in resistance training had similar bone structure. 

“People who adhere to a vegan lifestyle should perform resistance training on a regular basis to preserve bone strength,” Muschitz said.

Other authors of this study include: Robert Wakolbinger-Habel of the Vienna Healthcare Group and the Medical University of Vienna in Vienna, Austria; Matthias Reinweber of the Vienna Healthcare Group; Jürgen König, Daniel König and Rochus Pokan of the University of Vienna in Vienna, Austria; and Peter Pietschmann of the Medical University of Vienna.

The study received no external funding.

The manuscript, “Self-Reported Resistance Training is Associated with Better HR-pQCT Derived Bone Microarchitecture in Vegan People,” was published online, ahead of print.

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