New study finds the best exercise for lowering high blood pressure

High blood pressure: Lifestyle changes to reduce reading

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often branded an “invisible killer” because it hikes your risk of heart disease without obvious warning signs. 

Given its prevalence – around one in four adults in the UK have the condition – researchers are actively pursuing new ways to tackle the cardiovascular problem.

A study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, adds to these efforts by pinpointing the most “effective” exercise at reducing a high reading.

Comparing the efficacy of different forms of physical activity on reducing blood pressure, researchers at Canterbury Christ Church and Leicester universities found that isometric exercises – were almost twice as effective as the exercise recommended by the government guidelines.

Isometric exercises – think planks and wall sits – involve engaging muscles without movement.

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However, the NHS website recommends that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week, alongside dietary and other lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure.

This guidance fails to mention newer forms of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or isometric exercise.

The new study looked at 270 randomised controlled clinical trials that provided a sample of 15,827 participants.

The exercises considered were classified as aerobic, dynamic resistance training, a combination of these, HIIT, and isometric exercises. 

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After looking at both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure, the research team found significant reductions after all the categories of exercise. 

However, isometric exercise proved the most effective out of all the types of physical activity.

Jamie O’Driscoll, senior author of the report, explained that this type of exercise leaves the muscle contracted but it doesn’t change its length.

This static contraction could squeeze the vessels that supply blood to the working muscles, which reduces the flow of blood to the muscle during the exercise and therefore oxygen supply to the muscle.

When the muscle relaxes afterwards, it causes a large flow of blood through the vessels and is likely to be the trigger driving these greater improvements in blood flow regulation.

The new study now calls for a review of exercise guidelines for the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure.

O’Driscoll said: “Performing 4 x 2 minutes of wall sits, with two-minutes’ rest in between, three times per week, is an effective way to reduce your blood pressure.

“They should be done alongside other exercise modes, to provide the maximum range of exercise choices rather than limiting them.”

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