Journal of Advanced Practice Nursing

This 5-Minute Workout Can Save Your Life


By Melissa Sammy

Five minutes of Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) daily can improve cardiovascular health, enhance fitness and sports performance, and sharpen cognitive function, according to preliminary clinical trial results from University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) researchers.

A simple workout, IMST involves vigorous inhalation through a hand-held device called an inspiratory muscle trainer that provides resistance.

“It’s basically strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with,” explained study lead Daniel Craighead, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory, CU Boulder, Boulder, CO.

The technique was first developed in the 1980s as a non-pharmacological intervention for the improvement of respiratory symptoms in critically ill patients following mechanical ventilation cessation. However, IMST has also been assessed in other studies for the improvement of various respiratory conditions, notably chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as lung capacity improvement in patients with lung diseases.

In a 6-week trial on the effects of IMST on obstructive sleep apnea, University of Arizona researchers found that 30 inhalations a day using a hand-held device resulted in more restful sleep, stronger inspiratory muscles, and lower systolic blood pressure levels (by about 12 mmHg) among participants.

The promising results from this trial prompted CU Boulder researchers to investigate the potential benefits of IMST for cardiovascular, cognitive, and physical health in a cohort of 50 middle-aged adults in a 6-week study. Participants were assigned either to an IMST intervention group or a control group. In the intervention group, participants were tasked with taking 30 deep breaths daily, which took about 5 minutes to complete, via the inspiratory muscle trainer. In the control group, participants mimicked the same process but used a low-resistance sham breathing device instead.

Now roughly half-way through the study, the researchers have noted significant reductions in blood pressure levels and improvements in large-artery function among IMST intervention participants vs those in the control group. Furthermore, cognitive and treadmill test results were superior among participants in the intervention group vs participants in the control group. Specifically, the IMST group was able to run for longer and keep their heart rate and oxygen consumption low when asked to exercise to exhaustion.

“We suspect that as you improve the function of your respiratory muscles, they don’t need as much blood to work and that blood can be redistributed to your legs, so you exercise longer,” said Dr. Craighead.

The researchers hope that the ease of the technique coupled with the comfort of a home setting will encourage people to perform the 5-minute workout regularly and enjoy health benefits they might not otherwise receive.

“Our goal is to develop time-efficient, evidence-based interventions that those busy mid-life adults will actually perform,” said Douglas R. Seals, PhD, professor and director, Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory, CU Boulder.

Added Dr. Craighead: “[IMST is] something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far, it looks like it is very beneficial to lower blood pressure and possibly boost cognitive and physical performance.”

“The preliminary data are quite exciting,” concluded Dr. Seals. Of note, less than 10% of participants discontinued the study, and there were no significant adverse effects reported in association with IMST.

Despite these positive findings, the study authors cautioned that the study results are preliminary, and that individuals interested in IMST should consult their physician first.


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