Doing simple some exercises can help reduce high blood pressure. This finding, from a review by researchers for the American Heart Association of more than 1,000 scientific studies published between 2006 and 2011, may surprize some people.
Which simple exercises are they talking about and how effective are they at reducing hypertension?
The experts, including epidemiologists and cardiologists, looked at three types of therapies as alternative treatments to prescription medication:
- Behavioural therapies such as meditation,
- Non-invasive procedures including acupuncture and slow deep breathing, and
- Three types of exercise – walking, resistance or weight training and hand grip exercises.
The findings, reported in the journal Hypertension, recorded all three types of therapies reduced hypertension. However, some were more effective than others at lowering our high blood pressure.
Which is best at lowering our high blood pressure?
Isometric hand grip exercises: such as those used by golfers to build wrist and forearm strength, lowered high blood pressure by 10 per cent after four weeks of doing the exercises for 15 minutes a day, five days a week. This type of exercise can be done in many ways. For example:
- Pressing your hands together in a prayer position and pushing firmly and counting to ten, then resting for ten seconds and repeating this cycle four more times; or
- Holding a stress ball in your palm, squeeze firmly, hold for ten seconds, then release. Repeat four times daily.
Using an isometric hand exerciser: this is like using pliers, but with a spring in the middle so that with each squeeze you use your hand muscles.
Slow deep breathing: Slow deep breathing was effective at lowering our high blood pressure when performed for 15 minutes three or four times a week.
There was not strong evidence that acupuncture worked.
Walking: Walking was found to be the best form of exercise, with the biggest reductions in hypertension seen when it is intense and frequent. Half an hour of moderate or high-intensity walking each day will help lower our high blood pressure. The benefit of this form of exercise lasts for almost 24 hours.
The novelty of this research is the effectiveness of some simple forms of exercise. While they can help to reduce hypertension, these exercises should not be relied on, on their own, to lower your high blood pressure.
Fewer health risks
All medications prescribed to reduce hypertension carry a degree of risk of the patient suffering from side effects. In a small number of cases, these side effects can be severe. These alternative approaches posed fewer health risks and side-effects than prescription medication.
Managing high blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle
There is an issue with studies such as the one cited above that we, as hypertensives, need to be aware of. That is, the research is only looking at a specific aspect or aspects of a problem. On their own, the alternative treatments investigated by the researchers are not as effective as some prescription drugs. However, they often make the prescription drugs more effective.
Nor did the research take into account the beneficial effects of lifestyle choices such as:
- Having a healthy balanced diet that is low in sodium and contains at least five different fruits and vegetables each day;
- Losing excess weight;
- Low alcohol consumption; and
- Avoiding the use of tobacco products.
If you are serious about reducing your hypertension to normal levels, the best approach is to follow a heathy, more active lifestyle.