A new study has found that doing 5 minutes of breathing exercises works to lower blood pressure as effectively as medication does, according to researchers at CU Boulder. The breathing exercises are a specific type of inhaling to bring oxygen deep into the lungs, called Muscular Strength Training, which has been described as "working out your breathing muscles" since you need to inhale deeply to see the best results.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association and describes how "High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training" or IMST, or a form of sucking in air through a handheld device, appears to help people with cardiovascular diseases lower their blood pressure and other important health markers that can indicate an elevated risk of heart attack or stroke.

What is blood pressure and how do you know when it's high?

Blood pressure is the pressure that your blood exerts on the blood vessel walls as it passes through them, which can be measured at a doctor's office or any health care provider. Normal blood pressure is below 120 over 70. When you or someone you know has been told they have high blood pressure, that is usually above 130/80, which measures systolic over diastolic. Systolic is the pressure that can be measured as your heart squeezes the blood through your arteries, and diastolic is the pressure between beats as the heart fills back up with blood to carry new oxygen to the cells.

Breathing can slow down your parasympathetic nervous system, or the part of your brain that tells your body to relax and rest, and bring your blood pressure down with it. Deep slow breathing has been known for years to help lower blood pressure, temporarily, but this study showed that vigorous "lung training" can work on a more lasting basis.

An easy exercise to treat the "silent killer" that affects 108 million Americans

Hypertension is called the "silent killer" because it has few symptoms, yet it affects about 108 million Americans or 45 percent of the US adult population. Many of them are on prescribed medicine to lower their blood pressure, but doctors often also recommend a healthy diet and daily exercise to help bring blood pressure under control more permanently.

Previous studies have found that diet and exercise can lower hypertension, yet only 23 percent of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, as prescribed by the CDC, That is an average of about 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. This is why finding a strategy to improve blood pressure while sitting in a chair could be a lifesaver for many sedentary people with high blood pressure. One positive: IMST can be done anywhere, according to the authors.

"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 for patients who need to improve their breathing, either because they have a chronic condition or are getting over a lung infection, or they have had another health event, IMST breathing exercises involve inhaling strongly through a hand-held device and inhaling the air as strongly as you can, while the tube counters your efforts by sucking the air in the other direction. Some of these devices (which are sold on Amazon for as low as $56) are marketed to help singers or lecturers strengthen their lungs or athletes who want to improve air uptake. Traditionally doctors who have prescribed IMST have told their patients to work on this inhalation exercise for up to 30 minutes a day, but more recently they have seen benefits among patients who do it for just 30 inhales a day, according to Science Daily.

Some athletes have also reported that IMST has helped their sports performance, and others have seen a benefit to cognitive function, the study reports. IMST exercises can lead to a significant drop in blood pressure that is even better than what people have achieved by walking five days a week or by taking medication that lowers blood pressure.

Prior to this study, the belief was that "slow breathing" worked to lower hypertension, according to a study in Hypertension back in 2005. In that study, breathing slowly, just six breaths per minute, helped people with high blood pressure bring it under control: "In hypertensive subjects, the slow breathing significantly decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressures. In the study, the "baroreflex" was also slowed down. The baroreflex is one of the body's homeostatic mechanisms that help to maintain blood pressure at nearly constant levels. The slow breathing helped to slow both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nerves, the study found.

Still another study found that slow and steady breathing can lower blood pressure, at least temporarily, by working on the nervous system to slow down the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps your body recover from a startle, and regulates blood pressure back to normal, according to Vital Heart & Vein

Bottom Line: To lower your blood pressure over time, eat a healthy diet of plant-based foods that are minimally processed and get 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. But if you want a way to lower blood pressure momentarily, use breathing exercises to help.

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