Researchers who reviewed more than 50 studies on the effects of exercise on blood pressure have a message for all couch-potatoes out there: Get moving.
Whether you are overweight or trim, have hypertension or normal blood pressure, engaging in regular exercise such as walking, cycling, jogging or swimming can help lower your blood pressure and your subsequent risk of heart attack and stroke.
The review of 54 clinical trials involving 2,419 previously sedentary adults concluded that regular exercise decreased systolic blood pressure -- the upper number in a blood-pressure reading -- by an average of 4 mm of mercury (mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number, by an average of 2.6 mm Hg.
Even a small reduction in the overall population's average blood pressure level should dramatically reduce the morbidity and mortality of heart disease and stroke in the US general population.
The new findings offer more evidence that exercise is important both for treating high blood pressure and preventing the condition from developing in healthy people, he said.
In addition to the cardiovascular risks, high blood pressure also can damage the kidneys, eyes and brain. Blood pressure is considered elevated if the reading is 140/90 or higher.
Statistics show that about 25% of US adults have high blood pressure and up to 30% are sedentary. While the study did not identify an ideal amount of exercise for lowering blood pressure, results showed that a variety of types of aerobic exercise at all frequencies were beneficial to people who were previously sedentary. In other words, some activity was better than none.
US health officials advise that people aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on 5 or more days a week.
Annals of Internal Medicine April 2, 2002;136:493-503
No new news here. But one hour of exercise a day seems to be very important in producing long-term benefits in those with high blood pressure.
When using exercise as a drug, it is important to strive for one hour a day, every day, as your goal. Obviously, depending on your current condition, you may need to work slowly up to this level. My experience is that weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, running, Nordic Track and Health Rider are better than cycling and swimming. If you have access to a health club, my favorite piece of equipment there is the elliptical machine.
Cycling and swimming, though enjoyable, take far longer to produce the same benefit and each has their own problems. If you are cycling outdoors you run the risk of being killed or injured by a motor vehicle. Swimming is usually done in chlorinated pools, which has its own problems.
However, if you are able to swim in the ocean, the salt water provides an incredible synergism that far exceeds the value of the exercise.