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Low impact static exercises may help lower blood pressure

Kampala, Uganda | AGENCIES | New research suggests that low-impact, isometric exercises may help lower blood pressure better than other forms of exercise. An isometric exercise is a form of exercise involving the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint.

In the study, five different forms of exercise were compared: aerobic, resistance training (weight-lifting), combined training (utilising both weight-lifting and aerobic exercise together), high-intensity interval training, and isometric exercise.

While all forms of exercise showed positive gains in lowering blood pressure, isometric exercises demonstrated the most encouraging results.

To lower or manage blood pressure, doctors generally recommend a combination of lifestyle and diet changes in addition to exercise.

For cardiovascular health and controlling blood pressure, the traditional guidance for prevention and management has always highlighted aerobic exercise (activities like biking or jogging) as the gold standard.

But, a growing body of research supports a new conclusion.

Isometric exercises (static, low-impact exercises like wall-sitting and planks) may be even more effective for lowering both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

A meta-analysis, recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, systematically reviewed existing research on a variety of exercise programs and found that isometric exercise had the most pronounced effect.

“While various different forms of exercise reduce blood pressure, isometric appears superior. This work encapsulates a body of isometric exercise training literature that has been building over the last two decades,” Dr. Jamie O’Driscoll, a Professor in cardiovascular physiology at Canterbury Christ Church University and senior author of the study, told Healthline.

O’Driscoll and his team took a deep dive into the literature about the effects of different exercise programs on blood pressure: reviewing 270 randomised controlled trials, with nearly 16,000 participants, published between 1990 and 2023.

While all exercises improve blood pressure, some are clearly more effective than others.

“(The study) demonstrates a potential superiority in blood pressure lowering effects with isometric versus the ‘traditional’ recommendation of aerobic exercise. The authors continue to find that exercise is about as effective as a single blood pressure pill to lower high blood pressure,” Dr. John Osborne, MD, Ph.D., volunteer expert for the American Heart Association and Founder and Director of State of the Heart Cardiology, told Healthline. Dr. Osborne was not affiliated with the research. Categorically, isometric exercises were most effective at reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Choice of exercise activity also played a significant role in affecting blood pressure. Walking was the least effective aerobic exercise, compared to running and biking. Isometric wall-sitting was not only the most effective isometric exercise but by far the most effective exercise of all those observed for improving both diastolic and systolic blood pressure.

The findings of this study should encourage future guidelines to provide support of isometric exercise training, complementary to other modes of exercise, in the management of resting blood pressure.

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