Smokers lungs work better after POWERbreathe IMT

This new study investigates the effects of inspiratory muscle training (IMT) on smokers and non-smokers. Researchers from Ondokuz Mayıs University and Gaziantep University in Turkey look into how IMT may affect pulmonary function and respiratory muscle strength in both these groups.

Pulmonary function & respiratory muscle strength

Pulmonary function indicates how well a person’s lungs are working to help them breathe. There are different tests that measure pulmonary function, otherwise known as lung function.

Respiratory muscle strength is an indication of how much pressure the breathing muscles generate when a person breathes in or out. Assessment of respiratory muscle strength involves measuring MIP or MEP. MIP or maximal inspiratory pressure reflects the strength of the inspiratory muscles, such as the diaphragm. Meanwhile MEP or maximal expiratory pressure reflects the strength of the expiratory muscles.

The IMT program

For the IMT program, subjects use the POWERbreathe Classic IMT device. The procedure consists of 30 x 2 dynamic inspiratory efforts with a 1-minute interval. They perform this for four weeks, seven days a week. The reason researchers chose this procedure is that it has been previously applied in healthy individuals.

Smokers group, non-smokers & placebo groups

Forty-two healthy males enrol in this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled experimental design study. There are 16 subjects in the IMT smokers group (IMTS), 16 in the IMT non-smokers group (IMTN) with the final 10 subjects in the placebo group. This final group receive a sham ‘placebo’ treatment that will have no real effect.

By using a double-blind, placebo-controlled experimental design study, researchers can test out a therapy. The placebo treatment will feel just like the actual treatment, in this case, IMT. The reason for this is so that both the subject and the researcher’s expectations will not affect the outcome. Furthermore, a double-blind controlled study means that neither the researchers nor the subjects taking part know who will be receiving which treatment. This is vital in helping to avoid bias when measuring outcomes.

For the study, the experimental groups (IMTS and IMTN) perform POWERbreathe IMT at 50% of maximal inspiratory pressure. Researchers increase this each week. Meanwhile, in the placebo group, subjects perform POWERbreathe IMT at only 15% of MIP.

Improvements occur in smokers after IMT

Results of the study show significant improvements in respiratory muscle strength and pulmonary functions after the 4-week POWERbreathe IMT program. Even more promising is the fact that improvements in smokers are greater. Potentially, this is a result of a:

“greater influence of exercise on smokers’ lung microbiome in reversing the negative effects of smoking.”

For smokers, this means that their stronger inspiratory muscles will improve their ability to breathe in more air, for longer and with less fatigue. This will have a positive impact on daily life by helping them improve their ability to perform daily activities that may have been prohibitive before.

Acclimatisation to High Altitude – POWERbreathe IMT is Beneficial

There is a new Review Article in Frontiers in Physiology (January 2019) that looks into using respiratory/inspiratory muscle training for acclimatisation to altitude.

Respiratory muscle training

Respiratory muscle training, or RMT, is a programme of exercises that aim to improve the function of the respiratory muscles. Otherwise known as the ‘breathing pump’ muscles, the expiratory muscles and the inspiratory muscles make up the respiratory muscles. It’s the inspiratory muscles that we use when we breathe in. The main inspiratory muscle is the diaphragm, but to a lesser extent, the intercostal muscles also help with inhalation. To help improve the strength and stamina of these inspiratory muscles, respiratory muscle training will include Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT).

Inspiratory Muscle Training

Inspiratory muscle training, such as with POWERbreathe, uses resistance to provide the training effect. When breathing in against the resistance, the breathing muscles have to work harder. As a result, they get stronger. Consequently, breathing stamina improves resulting in a reduction in breathing fatigue. There is numerous research validating this form of breathing training and, as a result, it is the most commonly used.

The review

For the review, researchers perform a comprehensive search, analysing seven appropriate studies. Three of these studies refer to using respiratory muscle endurance training (RME with isocapnic hyperpnea). However, the remaining four studies use respiratory muscle strength training (RMS with POWERbreathe IMT).

Acclimatisation to altitude

Studies suggest that respiratory muscle training with IMT is a useful preparatory method for enhancing respiratory muscle efficiency 4-6 weeks before being exposed to hypoxia/altitude.

It is evident that breathing during exercise in hypoxia is associated with increased energy costs (20–30%) when compared to normoxia. Therefore, it is more likely to cause respiratory muscle fatigue. However, inspiratory muscle training will help to combat this. This is because IMT trains the inspiratory muscles to become stronger, increasing stamina. Consequently, breathing muscle fatigue reduces.

It, therefore, seems apparent that breathing muscle training has the potential to minimise at least some of the limiting respiratory factors that occur during training and competition in hypoxia/at altitude.

Benefits of acclimatisation to altitude using IMT

The Review suggests that both elite athletes and non-elite individuals may benefit from RMT, including:

  1. A delay in the onset of premature fatigue.
  2. A delay in respiratory muscle metaboreflex onset/activation.
  3. An improvement in clearance and tolerance to anaerobic metabolite products.
  4. A decrease in the perception of dyspnea (‘air hunger’).
  5. An increase in oxygen saturation values.
  6. A more favourable blood redistribution to the locomotor muscles.

Finally, evidence from this review finds that respiratory muscle training is an effective stimulus for improving the strength and endurance of the respiratory muscles. In fact, it’s these adaptive responses that contribute to the improvement of ventilatory function and efficiency. In translation, this means that respiratory muscle training is very likely to improve exercise performance in normoxia and particularly in hypoxia/altitude.

Lower Blood Pressure with POWERbreathe IMT

The University of Colorado Boulder is using the POWERbreathe K-Series in their independent research. They are investigating the effects of just 30 breaths of inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST). Specifically, they are looking to see if it could lower blood pressure and reduce heart attack risk. They are also investigating whether it could help you think more clearly and boost sports performance.

Lower blood pressure

One of the key findings of the research so far is that 30 breaths of IMST (about five minutes) will lower blood pressure. Crucially, with about half the tests completed, researchers report significant drops in blood pressure and improvements in large-artery function. In fact, their findings show that about 5-minutes of IMST lowers blood pressure as much as aerobic exercise and more than some medications.

Other preliminary findings

The research findings also suggest that just 5-minutes of IMST may also boost cognitive function. Furthermore, their findings show that it may also improve fitness and increase sports performance. In fact, these improvements are already proven in previous research studies. However, this study reiterates such findings.

With the help of the university’s new National Institute on Ageing grant, researchers are launching a clinical trial.

The research

Research subjects will either be a part of a sham group (using low/no IMST) or the IMST group. The IMST group will perform 30 breaths of inspiratory muscle strength training (taking approximately 5-minutes). IMST is strength training for the muscles you use to inhale. Both groups will be performing their version of IMST over a period of 6 weeks. Researchers are hoping that by doing this for 5 minutes a day in the comfort of their own home, people will get health benefits they otherwise might not get.

The tests

Researchers will be performing tests to evaluate:

  • Vascular function – how healthy the blood vessels are
  • Cerebral vascular function – how healthy the blood vessels in the brain are
  • Cognitive function
  • Physical performance – VO2 max testing assesses this
  • Motor function

Results so far are showing that the IMST group, compared to sham subjects, are lowering their blood pressure and improving blood vessel health. Also, the IMST group is performing better on certain cognitive and memory tests. In addition, the IMST group are able to keep their heart rate and oxygen consumption lower during exercise. Consequently, subjects are also showing an increase in exercise tolerance time too.

Positive outcomes

With all this evidence, researchers hope that by using IMST, people may be able to get their blood pressure under control, decrease their risk of chronic conditions and live healthier lives.