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New Science on the Benefits of Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training
In a recent study out of the University of Colorado, Boulder, longevity researcher Daniel Craighead and his team found that the benefits of a popular breathing technique called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) extended beyond just strengthening the lungs and diaphragm. This breathing strategy, used in hospitals around the world, also lowers blood pressure and decreases inflammatory markers.
Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training techniques mimic an Ayurvedic breathing technique called pratiloma. Both techniques aim to strengthen the diaphragm.
IMST training has also been shown to:
- Increase endothelial nitric oxide, which has healing effects
- Lower reactive oxygen Species (free radicals)
- decreased c-reactive protein—an inflammation marker
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, provides some of the strongest evidence to date breathing can impact heart disease.
Researchers asked the participants to take 30 deep inhalations per day either at a high or low resistance on an IMST device, for six days a week.
The results for the high resistance group were astonishing. The study documented a nine-point reduction in systolic blood pressure (top number). The blood pressure impacts were similar to taking a 30-minute walk and some blood-pressure medications.
Researchers also saw a 45% improvement of endothelial function of the lining of the arteries. This was measured by increased production and absorption of nitric oxide, which is produced when you breathe through your nose and serves as a natural antiseptic and repair agent.
Even more impressively, after six weeks without practicing IMST, most of the high resistance group maintained the benefits.
High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST)
The new research confirms what we’ve known in the Ayurveda and yoga communities for a long time—that we don’t breathe well. Regular exercise and yoga for an hour or two a day still leaves us with more sitting time than we were designed for. Sitting causes the diaphragm to lock up and most of us are unable to fully contract the diaphragm on a regular basis, causing something called “diaphragmatic fatigue.”
The antidote to this is strengthening the diaphragm on a regular basis. In Ayurveda, this technique is called pratiloma, and in Western medicine, it’s called IMST or IMT.
The key to strengthening the diaphragm is to breathe in fully against resistance. This can be accomplished with a variety of IMT devices that help strengthen the inspiratory breathing muscles. the Breather Fit, for example, allows you to dial in different levels of resistance while inhaling. As diaphragmatic strength increases at rest or during exercise, higher levels of resistance and respiratory efficiency can be achieved.
NOTE: If you watched my podcast episode with Anders Olsson on breathing and bought his breathing device, the Relaxator, you notice it creates resistance during the exhalation and forces you to inhale only through the nose. Exhalation training has also been shown to enhance athletic performance. For example, Carl Stough, the founder of the now closed Carl Stough Institute of Breathing Coordination, helped Olympians break gold medal records in the 1964 Olympic games in Mexico City with similar techniques. If you have bought a Relaxator based on my recommendation, you can also turn it into an inhalation breath trainer. Just open it up and remove the rubber damper. Then adjust the airflow to make it into a great inspiratory muscle training device with variable resistance.
Personally, I simply practice pratiloma, which does not require a device. Pratiloma is the breathing technique I prescribe to most of my patients because most of us, whether we know it or not, have some level of diaphragmatic fatigue. In fact, in one study with elite athletes, 50% of them had chronic levels of diaphragmatic fatigue.
During pratiloma, inspiratory resistance is created by breathing through the nose which creates 100 times more resistance than breathing through the mouth.
To practice pratiloma, partially close both nostrils with your fingers during the inhalations and release them during the exhalations. To get the maximum diaphragmatic training effect, close your nostrils about 75% of the way during inhalation.
While all the IMST devices on the market create inspiratory resistance through the mouth, the Ayurvedic approach with pratliloma is done exclusively through the nose, which provides additional benefits.
From a Western perspective, strengthening the diaphragm with IMST techniques is used for heart and lung conditions, along with reversing heartburn and GERD. Yes, it‘s true, studies show that this breathing technique can reverse heartburn and GERD with medication. This is attributed to the intimate relationship the diaphragm has with the stomach and other upper digestive organs.
The diaphragm is the primary pump for the lymphatic system, which is trying to remove waste from cells while carrying the immune system. Studies show that a significant number of women with breast cancer had congestion in the anterior diaphragmatic lymph nodes. The diaphragm is also the primary pump for the lymph around the belly, where the majority of the body’s lymph resides. Congestion here due to weak diaphragmatic function is linked to bloat and carrying weight around the belly and hips.